Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Value, and Forbes.com.
Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark Hendrickson is an economist who recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a Fellow for Economic & Social Policy for the College's Institute for Faith and Freedom. These articles are from The Epoch Times and The Institute for Faith and Freedom, an online publication of Grove City College.
How Much Should Government “Help the Economy”?
The coronavirus is disrupting our lives at a dizzying pace.
The NBA, NHL, MLS, and fledgling football league XFL have suspended their seasons. College basketball’s “March Madness” first thought about playing the tournament in the eerie silence of empty arenas, but then just canceled it completely. Tom Hanks has the virus. Broadway is shutting down, and the stock market has been plunging at a sickening pace.
Nothing is normal right now.
Question: What should the federal government do to help us through these challenging times? The difficulty here is that two distinct problems have been conflated. Americans are understandably concerned about dual threats: one to our physical health, the other to our economic well-being.
What the government should do in response to the threat to our health is obvious: marshal and facilitate efforts to contain and treat the virus.
What the government should do in response to the economic threat is much less clear.
There are dozens of suggestions for how the government should cushion the immediate economic impact of the virus and, going forward, avert a recession. The first of those two goals — helping Americans weather the virus-related economic storm — is worthwhile. The second goal — government intervention to ward off a recession — is not.
This is going to take some explaining, so please bear with me. As an economist, I have found that government intervention in economic affairs tends to help special interests while impeding overall economic progress. Yet many people believe that governments are endowed with some sort of superior wisdom that enables them to arrange our economic affairs into a satisfactory order. This is a myth. Look, if governments were that brilliant and competent, the whole world would be socialist today.
Some forms of government aid are more effective than others. Foreign aid provides a helpful object-lesson. Let us compare emergency aid with typical foreign aid designed to boost the economic development of countries.
Emergency aid, such as when the U.S. Navy deployed personnel and medical supplies to people in Indonesia after the devastating 2004 tsunami, saves lives. Even though the constitutionally stipulated purpose of our military forces is to defend American lives, Americans have a generous, compassionate heart, and we don’t begrudge such emergency assistance.
Foreign aid, by contrast, is less effective and less justifiable. Its track record is problematic. In fact, studies by economists such as Zambia’s Dr. Damisa Moyo and Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton have shown that foreign aid too often has retarded economic progress by bankrolling entrenched governments that are corrupt or inept. The efficacy of foreign aid also is limited by the same problem alluded to above — the superstitious belief that government planners can arrange a successful economic division of labor from the top down.
Now, let’s come back home. Today, with millions of Americans reeling from the economic blows of the virus, what should Uncle Sam do?
Although there will doubtless be opportunistic, wasteful, and cynical political add-ons attached to any relief measures, emergency aid nevertheless is a compassionate step to take. Nobody should suffer eviction or hunger because some virus has shut down their place of employment or left them confined to quarters.
One proviso: Any emergency aid measures should include a sunshine date — e.g., a stipulation that 30 days after the president declares the medical emergency over, the emergency expenditures shall cease.
By contrast, there should be no intervention by either the Federal Reserve or Uncle Sam to try to avert a recession. This sounds harsh and uncaring, but please understand that I don’t like recessions any more than you do. But underlying my position is an inescapable economic truth: A recession is a time of painful, but necessary economic adjustments.
What happens in a recession is that less-efficient businesses fold, releasing their hold on valuable economic inputs (land, labor, and capital). That clears the field for entrepreneurs with new value-creating ideas. Call it the growing pains of capitalism or the cost of creative destruction or bitter medicine, but recessions are necessary for healthy long-term economic growth.
An analogy from the physical world is a useful metaphor. What did this year’s horrific wildfires in Australia have in common with the great conflagration that consumed half of Yellowstone Park in 1988? In both cases, the fires were preceded by well-intended but unwise human intervention.
It had been official policy to diligently extinguish small fires for years and to prohibit the removal of dead plant matter (also known as “kindling”). By preventing periodic smaller fires that would periodically reduce accumulated kindling, the potential for larger fires kept increasing. Eventually, a trigger event would ignite catastrophic fires. Instead of putting up with periodic smaller adjustments that were necessary to the long-term health of forests, human interventions made large conflagrations inevitable.
And so it is in our economy. When government and central bank interventions keep weaker businesses from folding, in the short run, they lessen economic pain. In the long run, however, they trade periodic small adjustments for a much larger, much more painful economic realignment. Postponing necessary adjustments causes eventual much larger adjustments.
Another question: Is the early 2020 stock market rout the beginning of a major recession? Is this “the big one”? It could be. The artificially low interest rates engineered by the Federal Reserve over the past dozen years have provided life support to numerous corporate zombies and financial weaklings. Had interest rates been at more realistic and historic levels (i.e., higher), many of these moribund companies would have given up the ghost long ago and been replaced by vigorous new entrepreneurial ventures.
The current inventory of economic “dead wood” would be much smaller, meaning that the effects of an economic downturn in 2020 would be much less severe than they will be now.
From an economic standpoint, the best thing that government can do in convulsive times like today is to get out of the way and let the invisible coordinating hand of markets sort things out and lay the foundation for a prosperous future.
From a political standpoint, however, America’s political and monetary authorities feel compelled to intervene (especially since this is an election year). They feel this way because most Americans place entirely too much faith in government competence and expect the authorities to act.
Ironically, in carrying out the will of the people, the powers-that-be will impede some of the very adjustments needed to get our economy back on a sound, healthy footing.
After Afghanistan and Iraq, What?
At the end of last month, representatives of the Trump administration and the Taliban signed an agreement that could mark the beginning of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after more than 18 years there.
The reaction here in the United States has been decidedly muted, even before everything else was eclipsed by the coronavirus. Why? I think there are several reasons.
We are depressed. Our military has been fighting to keep the Taliban from ruling Afghanistan for 18 years, yet now we are preparing to withdraw and it looks like the Taliban will prevail.
Perhaps we are pessimistic. There are several conditions that still have to be met for the peace deal to be consummated, and we’re not confident that the Taliban will comply.
Maybe we’re just numb. The conflict has been going on so long that the majority of Americans who don’t have loved ones deployed there have tuned it out.
I’ve been brooding for many months over our military involvement in Afghanistan (Iraq, too). I feel the same kind of consternation that I did during the Vietnam War. The three presidents we have had during this war have failed to communicate to us why we are there and what it would take to bring our military forces home.
Indeed, it seems like the public has been deliberately misled. Worse, we haven’t been fair to our men and women in uniform. Year after year, they have had to risk their lives in a no-win war, just like in Vietnam decades ago. Young Americans have been dying in southern Asia, and most Americans don’t even know what for. That’s pathetic and tragic — a total disgrace.
The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have been taking a heavy toll on our troops. There were periods last year during which the military’s recruitment needs were not met. That meant that troops who had already been separated from spouses and children for too long had their overseas deployment extended.
We need to think of our fellow Americans in uniform more than just on Veterans Day. Many of these good people return home with scars that we can’t see — scars that are often more painful than the physical ones. Everyone should read the superbly told somber story of U.S. Marine Col. Randy Hoffman, whose dedicated and decorated service in Afghanistan has caused so much pain to the inner man.
Going forward, what lessons can we learn from our prolonged military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq?
I’m no military expert, but I humbly offer three principles that I hope are worthy of consideration: 1) Remember that the purpose, the raison d’être, of our armed forces is to protect and defend the lives of Americans; 2) Don’t initiate military action without a clearly defined and attainable objective; 3) Achieve that objective as quickly as possible, declare victory, and bring the troops home.
President George W. Bush at first upheld all three of those principles in Afghanistan. The original reason for deploying armed forces there was to eliminate terrorist training camps. Remember, this was right after 9/11. The notion of terrorist attacks on American soil was no mere theory, but a vivid reality.
Bush authorized a military operation with a clear objective: find and destroy any terrorist camps there. Our military’s execution of the plan was superb. With fewer than 300 pairs of boots on the ground, U.S. Special Forces joined with non-Taliban Afghans and achieved a quick and decisive victory. Their strategy was to engage Taliban forces in long-distance gunfights, then call in fighter jets to annihilate the enemy. Within a few months, over 30,000 to 40,000 Taliban fighters had been killed, their regime collapsed, and there were no known terrorist camps operating in Afghanistan.
However, Bush then made the fateful decision to embark on nation-building — supporting the establishment of a democratic government in Kabul. In doing so, he abandoned those three principles: 1) No longer were American troops fighting for Americans; they were building schools; 2) There was no longer a clearly defined military objective; 3) There was no route to a quick, decisive victory following which troops could be brought home. Instead, over 3,000 Americans have lost their lives there.
Frankly, it isn’t for us to decide how or by whom Afghans are to be governed. In fact, should we really be surprised that in a country of long-warring tribes, the members of non-U.S. backed tribes want to defeat those Afghanis allied with what appear to them to be infidel imperialists?
Nor, cold as it may sound, should U.S. troops be dying so that Afghan girls can go to school. (Those girls should be able to go to school. Neither should there be slavery in the world, nor the kind of oppression that the Communist parties in China, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela are imposing on their people, but we aren’t deploying troops to right those wrongs. The fact is, we can’t keep sacrificing American troops to solve all the world’s problems.)
Simply put, after the Taliban regime fell, Bush should have kept our military action purely defensive by rotating in a small number of Special Forces to monitor terrorist activity and identify terrorist installations, nothing more.
The younger Bush should have learned a lesson from his father. Bush the elder organized a U.S.-led multinational military coalition (Operation Desert Storm) with the specific objective of expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait. We can debate whether that operation was, strictly speaking, to defend Americans, but the elder Bush deserves credit for setting a clearly defined objective and enabling our military to score a decisive victory that brought troops home quickly.
Had Bush done what many armchair generals wanted at the time and sent our troops on to Baghdad, U.S. military forces almost certainly would have been bogged down there for years — as indeed happened a decade later under Bush the younger. In the latter case, our forces didn’t find the weapons of mass destruction that faulty intelligence had said were there, but “W” could have cut American losses once Saddam was found by simply declaring victory and bringing the troops home.
Instead, he committed to a long-term effort to “fix” Iraq and asking our troops to support the establishment of a lasting democratic government (just like in Afghanistan). The result? A quagmire costing over 4,400 American lives and nearly 32,000 injured.
Whenever we do extricate our military people from Afghanistan and Iraq, let us resolve to never put our people in harm’s way except to protect American lives. Let us never ask more of them again. Even though we are months removed from Veterans Day, I’d like to thank all our veterans for their service to our country. You are the best and you deserve the best treatment that we can give you.
Two Cheers for Capitalism?
Last month, a friend forwarded a link to a hugely important article by David Brooks. Title: “I Was Once a Socialist. Then I Saw How It Worked.” Subtitle: “Two Cheers for Capitalism, Now and Forever.” This was a truly astounding article for two reasons.
First, I was astounded that this article was published in The New York Times. Brooks is the Times’ resident (token?) relatively conservative writer, but still, in light of how overwhelmingly the The New York Times favors the socialist Democrats, it’s stunning (and admirable) that they gave space to a dissenting opinion on the central issue of the 2020 national election: socialism versus capitalism.
The other reason I consider Brooks’s article astounding is its sheer power. He brilliantly dismantles the pretenses of socialism with devastating directness, uncommon clarity, and relentless truth. Time after time I was so impressed with Brooks’ eminently quotable, crystalline explanations that I mentally gave him the greatest compliment one writer can give another: I wish I had written that.
Brooks assembled all the main reasons why capitalism is superior to socialism. He did so not as an economic theoretician, but as a down-to-earth journalist. Brooks traced my own earlier ideological odyssey. In college, we were enthusiastic supporters of socialism. Out in the real world, observation led him to the only reasonable conclusion: Capitalism dramatically advances human prosperity; socialism retards, undermines, and ultimately obliterates prosperity.
He reels off fact after telling fact:
“Capitalism has brought about the greatest reduction of poverty in human history.”
Socialism destroys incentives to improve.
Socialism lacks the price signals needed to rationalize and coordinate economic production.
Socialist central planners “can never gather all relevant data, can never construct the right feedback loops” or possess all the specific knowledge needed to master, improve, and update modes of production.
Countries that adopt capitalism get wealthier. Countries that adopt socialism get poorer.
Environmental degradation is much worse in socialist countries than in capitalist societies.
Average human life expectancy is noticeably longer (14.2 years) in capitalist countries.
Socialist “rulers turn into gangsters. A system that begins in high idealism ends in corruption, dishonesty, oppression and distrust.” Contrary to all the socialist rhetoric about “equality,” actual socialism “produces economic and political inequality.”
As superbly as Brooks articulates why human societies need to embrace capitalism and avoid socialism, his article nevertheless ultimately takes an unfortunate turn. He prints a wish list for government intervention to address some of the economic and social problems that capitalism hasn’t solved.
He calls for “wage subsidies and mobility subsidies,” “tax subsidies for health care,” “a massive infusion of money . . . into our education systems,” and so on. (Now it becomes clear why The New York Times published this article.)
It’s unarguably true that free markets haven’t solved all economic problems. Unfortunately, here Brooks falls for the same non sequitur that animates all progressives and socialists: the notion that if one has a vision for how to help one’s fellow man, then one is justified in using government power to compel others to pay for wanted reforms.
Would-be reformers aren’t content that, under capitalism, they are perfectly free to use their own time, energy, and financial resources to work — either individually or in voluntary cooperation with others — to open businesses that pay higher wages, establish foundations dedicated to helping workers relocate, open better schools, and so on.
The presumption that one is morally qualified to enlist the power of government to force others to bear the burden of one’s own vision for a better society is the seed from which tyranny grows. It’s an assault against individual liberty. Indeed, it’s self-contradictory for Brooks to advocate capitalism and then assert that the state should have the power to redistribute wealth, thereby abridging the property rights that are the essence and basis of capitalism.
Furthermore, his vision of “capitalism with modifications” is politically naïve. Brooks isn’t a leftist revolutionary, but a moderate whose intentions are benign, but he too glibly assumes that all reasonable people will agree with him as to what particular interventions are needed. There’s no such agreement today, nor any reason to hope for such an agreement to evolve.
The problem with using government to help A and B with certain economic needs is that C and D need help, too, with other economic needs. A Pandora’s box is opened. There’s no bright line to mark where government intervention should stop. Once the progressive/socialist tenet is accepted that it’s the government’s duty to actively boost citizens’ economic wellbeing (in contrast to the more limited traditional role of American government to keep citizens safe and free — a system that led to the United States becoming the wealthiest country in the world), the role of government becomes infinitely expandable. This is the road to socialism.
The myriad forms of federal intervention already in place have saddled our youth with tens of trillions of dollars of government debt and unfunded liabilities. That Brooks apparently is willing to increase that debt burden even more is, frankly, disappointing and appalling.
It’s perplexing that Brooks (given his understanding of socialism’s deficiencies) calls for a large increase in government involvement in different areas of the economy. Can’t he see that government intervention tends to raise prices — e.g., in health care and higher education? This apparent blind spot is especially strange given that his article correctly identifies government’s inability to achieve efficiency because it operates outside of market prices. That precisely is the inescapable problem in any government bureaucracy. (See Ludwig von Mises’ 1944 book Bureaucracy.)
Think about it: What is socialism but a complete system of government bureaucracies? The lengthy track record of bureaucratic waste and inefficiency in our own country provides us with a sneak preview of what conditions would be like under the total bureaucratic mismanagement of socialism.
As noted above, Brooks subtitled his article, “Two Cheers for Capitalism.” By this he means that while capitalism has been a great boon to the human race and is worthy of our praise and gratitude, it hasn’t produced perfect results. On this point he is absolutely correct. However, like many people of good will, Brooks is at least somewhat under the beguiling but treacherous influence of utopianism. He is holding “three cheers” of approbation in reserve for perfection.
But this is the human reality, utopian dreams notwithstanding: Perfection will forever be unattainable in human societies comprising manifestly imperfect human beings. Capitalism is no panacea, because there are no economic panaceas.
Unlike Brooks, I believe strongly that capitalism deserves three cheers — not because capitalism is or ever can be perfect, but for the salient fact that it’s by far the best system for prospering humankind that the world has ever known. Brooks’s article itself makes that very point. We shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the best. Three cheers for capitalism! *
Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark Hendrickson is an economist who recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a Fellow for Economic & Social Policy for the College's Institute for Faith and Freedom. These articles are from The Epoch Times and The Institute for Faith and Freedom, an online publication of Grove City College.
AOC’s Ravings Against Billionaires
“No one ever makes a billion dollars. You take a billion dollars.”
That was the punch line of democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) in a Martin Luther King, Jr., Day public interview with writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. The audience erupted into enthusiastic applause. This is a sad but vivid example of the woeful economic ignorance rampant in our society today.
Mr. Coates had asked AOC why he would be a bad guy if he became a billionaire by selling widgets. She replied that he really didn’t make them (shades of Barack Obama in 2012). Instead, she asserted, the billionaire sits
“. . . on a couch while thousands of people were paid modern-day slave wages. . . . You made that money off the backs of black and brown people [and] single mothers . . . who are literally dying because they can’t afford to live. And so no one ever makes a billion dollars. You take a billion dollars.”
There are many errors in AOC’s remarks, but let’s address a few.
First, let’s debunk the myth of the exploitative business owner lazily sitting around while others do all the work. Entrepreneurs are the wealth creators of society. They figure out how to combine the economic factors of production (land, labor, and capital) in new ways to create and provide new goods and services for others. Such endeavors require vision, stamina, energy, and hard work. If it were as easy as sitting on a couch, everyone would be a rich entrepreneur. Instead, entrepreneurial excellence is somewhat analogous to playing professional baseball, football, or basketball: Only a minority of people have enough talent to play professional sports competitively, and only a few of those are superstars. Not every human has what it takes to be an entrepreneur, and a Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos will be as rare as LeBron James or James Harden. Why do we admire star athletes but scorn star entrepreneurs (some of whom, AOC should acknowledge, are “black and brown people”)?
Second, AOC does not understand wealth creation. She seems to believe that billionaires extracted their billions by some dastardly process, leaving piles of victims in their wake. This is the old zero-sum view of the world that darkened human thought in the 16th century — the notion that one person’s gain is another’s loss. That is a fallacy.
In free markets based on private property, people only buy or sell if they anticipate they will be better off by doing so. We exchange what we value less for what we value more; otherwise, the trade wouldn’t happen. Thus, both parties to any voluntary transaction gain value. The billions earned by corporations are mirror images of the billions of dollars of value they have created and supplied to others.
The profits/benefits of consumer and producer are roughly comparable. But the economic value of the producer is simply more concentrated — that is, on one side you may have a corporation of 5,000 people having created billions of dollars of value for tens of millions of consumers. The total value exchanged between the corporation and its many customers is in the same ballpark, but on a per-capita basis, those billions are concentrated among a relatively small number of people on the producer side and diffused among a much larger number of people on the consumer side. But both sides are richer, not one side at the expense of the other, as AOC mistakenly believes.
It is morally perverse and economically stupid to demonize, persecute, and seek to eliminate billionaires, as Sen. Bernie Sanders desires. (See his wealth tax, among other obnoxious proposals. By the way, you can now get your very own “Billionaires Should Not Exist” bumper stickers by donating to the Sanders campaign.)
The continual denunciation of billionaires by demagogues is dangerous. Sanders has avoided saying we should hate billionaires, but in an interview with The Nation, he approvingly cited FDR’s explicit “hatred” for “economic royalists,” calling billionaires today’s royalists.
One of the consequences of the anti-capitalist fulminations of AOC, Sanders, et al. is that there are equally ignorant and self-righteous people out there who want to put words into action in some pretty vicious and violent ways. For example, Project Veritas recently recorded Sanders campaign staffer Martin Weissgerber making such revolting statements as “Guillotine the rich”; “What will help is when we send all the Republicans to re-education camps”; and “The Soviet Union was not horrible . . . [but was] the most progressive place to date in the world.” (Yes, he actually said those things.) Maybe you want to live in a society even more “progressive” than the USSR, but for the average American, this is an existential threat to our basic rights and our way of life.
We need more economic enlightenment in this country, and we need it now — not just because there is an election this fall, but because millions of Americans are in the grip of an extreme ideology that can only be described as warped and destructive.
Budget Deficit Capitulation: Our Spending Problem
During the week before Christmas, Congress rushed a spending bill into law.
Two spending bills were introduced that Monday, a flurry of political horse-trading ensued, numerous pork barrel favors were hastily added, and — presto — by Friday Congress had approved $1.4 trillion in discretionary spending. Treasury and budget officials acknowledge that future deficits will now rise more than earlier anticipated.
The American people responded to the new spending bill with a collective yawn. A deep national apathy toward the national debt has settled in. Few people care anymore. President Trump may care on a personal level, but as a political pragmatist, deficit spending is one battle he has chosen not to fight. Even those of us ashamed of how our youth are being progressively swindled by federal deficit spending have resigned ourselves to the fact that our government has a debt addiction.
The signs that Uncle Sam would further enlarge fiscal deficits had been unmistakable. As I wrote in November, the GOP-sponsored “Prevent Government Shutdown Act of 2019” was a sign of capitulation by former deficit hawks. It was clear then, if it hadn’t been before, that an expansion of deficit spending was virtually a done deal.
Now that the spending increase has happened, I’m not here to howl or protest. I emphatically think it was wrong, but what’s done is done. However, there are a couple of very important numbers that I wish to call to your attention now. I hope that you will remember them the next time President Trump or some other non-socialist president calls for lower tax rates and the left argues against them.
I’ll give the numbers to you in two forms, only the second of which I hope you will commit to memory:
In Fiscal Year 2018, President Trump’s first full year in office, federal revenues were $3,329 billion. In Fiscal Year 2019, the first full year during which Trump’s corporate and personal income tax cuts were in effect, federal receipts totaled $3,462 billion. To be more specific, federal revenues from income taxes decreased; however, the lower tax burden on the private sector contributed to an increase in the number of Americans working. That, in turn, increased federal revenues from FICA payroll taxes. Furthermore, increased economic activity boosted federal revenue from excise taxes.
Critics were too hasty to claim that tax cuts inevitably shrink federal revenues. Receipts may decline from some taxes while still rising overall. And even if overall government revenues fall, so what? All that means is that people get to keep more of their own income.
Now here is the set of numbers I hope you can remember: Federal revenue increased four percent last year over the previous year, while federal spending rose eight percent. This points to a simple, irrefutable arithmetical truth: The reason the federal deficit is rising is not because tax revenues are falling — they are not — but because spending is rising at a faster rate.
Back in the 1980s, critics on the Left claimed that President Reagan’s supply-side tax cuts caused deficits to rise. Not so. Then, as today, federal revenues actually increased substantially after the tax cuts (rising from roughly $600 billion to $1 trillion), but federal spending increased even more. Inevitably, then, deficits rose.
The bottom line remains: The federal deficit is a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Don’t ever let anyone tell you anything different.
Cheating in Baseball: Past, Present, and Future
The world of Major League Baseball (MLB) has been rocked by a major scandal. Several teams, most prominently (so far) the 2017 Houston Astros championship team, have been implicated in schemes to steal catchers’ signs to pitchers.
The Astros combined high-tech and low-tech means — television cameras and monitors to detect the signs and then banging on trash cans to alert batters to what kind of pitch to expect. That reduces a pitcher’s greatest advantage — the batter’s uncertainty about what kind of pitch he would face — and Astros’ batters feasted as a result.
Cheating in baseball (and indeed in all sports) is as old as sport itself. The desire to compete, excel, and win is part of human nature. Alas, so are baser tendencies, such as pride, envy, and greed that motivate some participants to cheat.
The good news is that Americans overwhelmingly despise cheating (except in politics, but that’s another story). They want their champions to win fair and square, admiring them for their goodness as well as their athletic accomplishments. Knowing this, the overseers of professional sports — league commissioners, team owners, and, by extension, corporate advertisers — strive to maintain the integrity and fundamental fairness of their “product” — their sport. They know they can’t afford to let some bad apples ruin the market for the sport for everyone.
MLB’s current cheating scandal is far from its first, and certainly won’t be its last. Coincidentally, this one has come exactly one century after MLB’s biggest scandal — the infamous Black Sox scandal, in which several Chicago White Sox players accepted bribes from gamblers to throw the World Series. To rescue MLB’s reputation, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned eight Chicago players for life, including the great “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, even though Jackson (as we are reminded in the great movie “Field of Dreams”) played flawlessly.
MLB has strictly prohibited players from getting involved in gambling ever since. This is why the sport’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose (who bet on games, although he was never suspected of throwing a game), hasn’t been inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. As one who greatly admires Rose’s skill and considers him to be one of the top two hitters I ever saw bat in person (the other was Ted Williams), I agree with Rose being banned. The sport must be bigger than any individual player, and MLB can’t afford to send out the morally dubious message that one can get away with misdeeds if one is a star.
There have been all sorts of relatively minor episodes of cheating in MLB’s history. Some players have used corked bats. Pitchers have found sneaky ways to “doctor” the ball. But the biggest scandal between the Black Sox fiasco and today’s depressing news was the steroid/performance-enhancing drugs scandal that erupted early in the previous decade.
One of the great attractions of sports is the possibility of seeing prodigious feats of athleticism that are beyond the reach of ordinary human beings. One of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen in baseball happened in 1998. I was visiting a friend in St. Louis who happened to pitch BP (batting practice) for the Cardinals. That was the year the Cards’ Mark McGwire hit the astounding total of 70 home runs. My friend and I (along with 10,000 to 15,000 other fans) went to Busch Stadium two hours before the game to watch McGwire take BP. Watching him crush ball after ball, sending them speeding to the far reaches of the park, was breathtakingly awesome.
Alas, though, the stunning feats of certain sluggers and pitchers in the ’90s and early 2000s were tainted when it came to light that players were taking drugs that bulked up their musculature and strength. Players were no longer competing on a level field, and it left a bad taste in the mouths of baseball fans. While MLB seems to have suppressed the most flagrant performance-enhancing drug abuses, from time to time, players are still caught and punished.
The last thing MLB needed today was another cheating scandal, but here we are. Baseball fans are united in agreement that such cheating is wrong and unacceptable. The only debate is whether the penalties assessed to the Astros — suspension of their manager and general manager for the 2021 season, forfeiture of the team’s top two draft picks in the next two annual drafts, and MLB’s maximum allowable fine of $5 million — were harsh enough.
Should the commissioner strip the Astros of their 2017 World Series championship? That would certainly disincentivize such cheating. But what would MLB do — award the championship to the team that lost the series? But what if they cheated, but eluded detection? Have no champion at all? These are not attractive options. Plus, the full extent of the sign-stealing cheating isn’t yet known. Multiple teams have been implicated, including the Boston Red Sox, which won the 2018 World Series.
MLB is facing the grim possibility that more than one championship season has been tainted by cheating.
By the way, let me suggest a simple solution for the sign-stealing problem. Technology made the cheating possible, and technology can end it. Just have catchers wear a small device by which they can transmit their signal (encrypted, of course!) to a similar device worn by the pitcher.
And while I’m at it, let me do something very dangerous for an economist: make a prediction. Baseball may have a problem, and probably sooner than later, caused by advances in artificial intelligence (AI).
As shown in the movie “Moneyball,” MLB general managers are making increasing use of sophisticated quantitative analyses to assemble winning rosters at affordable prices. As such analyses become increasingly advanced, inevitably, AI is going to produce a blueprint for how to squeeze out a few more wins over the course of a season — the difference between qualifying for the playoffs or not.
Just as MLB is now looking at machines to take over the calling of balls and strikes from fallible human umpires, AI conceivably could produce a scenario in which a team’s human manager ends up being little more than a messenger boy from the AI program to the players. It could be AI, not a human being, determining which players to play against given opponents and at what times to make substitutions, bunt, throw a curve, steal a base, etc.
We live in an age of computers, so MLB can’t and won’t ban the use of computers. But what will happen if the team that has the most powerful, advanced AI wins championships? Ugh.
Ultimately, cheating is a moral problem. Cheaters are tempted to believe they will gain by their cheating, but then, when they get caught and disgraced, their glory turns to ashes. They see the respect of fans slip away like quicksilver, and they realize that their phantom “achievement” was nothing more than fool’s gold. Think of the shame that Joe Jackson (guilty or not) must have felt in that famous moment when a boy who was one of his fans mournfully pleaded with his hero, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
Perhaps, we as a society need to revisit more often those cautionary tales of making deals with the devil, of sacrificing one’s human legacy and immortal soul for short-term material gain. Faust, Mephistopheles, Dorian Gray — even Joe Hardy in Broadway theater’s paean to baseball, “Damn Yankees” — these and other fictitious stories teach us the great truth that doing wrong never ends well.
And so it is proving in baseball as in other areas of life.
The Real Christmas
Amidst this season of gift-giving and merry-making, let’s ponder three remarkable aspects of the nativity of the baby Jesus two millennia ago.
1) Birth to a Virgin — To atheistic materialism, this seems like a fairy tale. Spiritually, though, what could make more sense? God is supreme; therefore, the divine supersedes the human and the spiritual trumps the material in every way. Jesus’ birth, resurrection, and ultimate departure via ascension illustrate that fundamental point. (See Isa. 55:9.)
Indeed, throughout his earthly sojourn, Jesus repeatedly transcended material limits and so-called laws. He walked on water; transported a ship to shore instantaneously long before anybody dreamed of “Scotty, beam me up”; he instantaneously healed leprosy, a man born blind, and a withered hand; he fed thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes, and ended up with more food than he started with; he restored life to Lazarus after four days in the grave; Those are but a few examples, of course.
Skepticism doubts the historical authenticity of these occurrences, and instead claims that humans have evolved from a primordial ball of gas — that beautiful art, loving hearts, selfless giving, and feelings ranging from grief to joy are mere chemical reactions of no permanent significance. Question: Who/What created that ball of gas? No, my atheistic friends (I used to share your beliefs), I’ll trust Jesus’ assurances of eternal life given by a loving, all-wise Creator. That doesn’t seem nearly as superstitious to me as the ball-of-gas theory.
2) Mary and Joseph — What perfect models of parenthood are Jesus’ human parents: loving, nurturing, protective. Mary’s utter purity and her humble willingness to make her will subservient to God’s remain awesomely exemplary. Joseph, too, was spiritually receptive and humbly obedient. He accepted the angelic message about Mary’s miraculous conception, and was totally supportive and protective of his wife, even though the baby she carried was not his own, even as she was betrothed to him. Later, he heeded the angel’s warning about Herod’s deadly intent, and without delay took Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt until the danger had passed.
3) The mission of Jesus — The Jewish people had been anticipating the Messiah/Christ/Anointed One to deliver them from Roman oppression. The name “Jesus” means “Joshua” — the same as Moses’ successor, a powerful military leader who vanquished the Jews’ enemies. But the child Jesus came to Earth with a higher mission.
Jesus came first to the Jewish people, because they were the only monotheists and it was the Hebrew prophets who had foretold His coming. However, Jesus did not come to save only Jews. His mission was not tribal, but universal. As the famous scriptural verse from John states, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “Whosoever” — not just the genealogical descendants of Abraham.
Furthermore, Jesus’ mission wasn’t the limited goal of political liberation, but the boundless goal of everlasting salvation from all the enslaving enemies of all humankind: sin, sickness, sadness, and death. He came to replace mortality with eternal life and the woes of this world with the bliss of heaven.
The magnificent core of Jesus’ teachings is sublimely simple: Love God wholeheartedly and your neighbor as yourself. We humans — even self-professed Christians — haven’t completely mastered those rules yet, but we are gradually making progress. Certainly it is encouraging that the oppressive Roman Empire is long gone while billions of people have accepted the sovereignty of the Savior, Jesus Christ. As His message of love for one another warms more hearts and animates more lives, war will diminish. Jesus is indeed “the prince of peace.” Hallelujah! And thank you, Lord. *
Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from The Epoch Times, and Visionandvalues.org, a publication of Grove City.
The Evolving Social Context of Parenting
Procreation has been one of the few constants throughout history. Indeed, it is the sine qua non of human existence — no procreation, no human race.
For centuries, it wasn’t unusual for a wife to be pregnant a dozen times or more. It involved little planning, but was more like a biological imperative, impelled by the survival instinct. It was a numbers game: A certain percentage of pregnancies did not culminate in live births, and due to malnutrition, poor sanitation, and the ravages of disease, many children didn’t survive until adulthood. The hope was that two or three children would make it to adulthood and be able to care for their parents during their senior years.
Multiple developments in the last few centuries have radically altered the parental calculus. In America, the land of opportunity and individual freedom, economic progress elevated standards of living higher and higher, resulting in declining death rates and increased longevity. Twentieth-century medical advances against disease gave longevity an additional boost, raising life expectancy from the mid-40s in 1900 to the upper-70s by 2000. With higher survival rates, the incentives to have many children were reduced.
The steadily increasing prosperity of the 19th and 20th centuries had a profound impact on family life. As the productivity of parents’ labor increased, and incomes rose, children were liberated from the necessity to work. Instead, they could go to school. Economic progress enabled “childhood” to become a period in which children were increasingly exempt from the responsibilities of adulthood. They could be “children” as we think of them today, not just little people working alongside big people (adults) in the grim struggle for survival. Eventually, the productivity of labor grew to the point where a father could earn enough to become his family’s sole breadwinner, enabling the mother to stay home as a full-time mother.
This sociological phenomenon — sometimes called the “Ozzie and Harriet ideal,” after a popular TV show — peaked in the 1950s. While still the basis of our society today, starting in the 1960s, the nuclear family consisting of a working dad, a stay-at-home mom, and kids was buffeted by several major challenges.
In the early 1960s, the birth control pill came on the scene. A wedge was driven between sex and procreation; family ties started to loosen. By the late ’60s, the emerging environmentalist movement popularized the notion that a human population explosion, resulting from plummeting death rates and too-high birth rates, would quickly engulf the world in lethal disasters. According to groups like Zero Population Growth (ZPG), human survival depended on us having fewer babies.
In the 1970s, abortion was legalized, making it even easier to separate sex from parenthood and obviously reducing the number of live births. Concurrently, the women’s liberation movement was rebelling against the Ozzie and Harriet model, arguing that women should no longer feel obligated to have babies, but instead should pursue whatever vocation they wanted to and not take a back seat to men in the economic life of our society.
(For the record, I am glad that females today feel free to pursue whatever goals they set for themselves. My own daughter, as a matter of fact, is making her way in one of the most male-dominated professions. But please remember, ladies, our society depends on enough of you having enough children to keep us going. That isn’t a matter of ideology or personal preference; it is simply a statement of a biological reality: Unless we switch over to having test-tube babies, only women can bear children.)
The Economic Factor — Impacted by these developments, the birth rate in the United States fell dramatically throughout the ’60s. The decline continued until 1975, when it more or less leveled off for a generation before starting to tail off gradually in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008. The concurrence of a falling birth rate with an economic phenomenon like the Great Recession is no irrelevant coincidence.
Yes, technological change (the pill), legal change (abortion), sociological change (feminist movement), and ideological influence (fears of population explosion) have all contributed to fewer adults choosing to have fewer children, but don’t underestimate the economic factor.
I’ve told my environmentalist friends for decades that capitalism is the cure for overpopulation. The explanation is simple: Capitalism generates prosperity, and very few people who have tasted prosperity will procreate their way out of prosperity. Given the choice between having two children and enjoying an affluent middle-class standard of living, and having six children and struggling to scrape by, rational adults will opt for fewer children. Indeed, this underlying economic reality was already in play before the convulsive changes of the ’60s and ’70s — remember: Ozzie and Harriet had only two children.
Unfortunately, I believe that America’s affluence and resulting desire for material ease has gone too far, with some ominous implications. Americans (like people in other affluent countries around the world) are opting for parenthood less and less. Couples are having children at a rate lower than the “replacement” rate needed to maintain a level population. The danger today is not from a population explosion, but a population implosion.
The State as Caretaker — In the modern welfare state, government retirement and health care programs have replaced children as the primary caretakers of senior citizens. Knowing this, many citizens were “liberated” from the traditional reliance on their children to care for them in their senior years. (The exception is seen among my Amish neighbors, who continue to have more children, on average, than non-Amish Americans, and who still faithfully care for their aged parents instead of depositing them in homes where strangers tend to them.)
The problem is, so many citizens in our country and abroad have counted on the state to be their financial support in their senior years that they did not bother to have and raise enough children to produce enough workers to supply the state with enough revenue to be able to pay for sufficient eldercare when the welfare state Ponzi schemes eventually break down.
Sadly, a “who needs kids?” mentality has taken hold. Many adults refuse to have children because they want to enjoy the good life that modern affluence provides. They don’t want what they consider the distraction or expense of raising children to get in the way of their “self-fulfillment.”
In extreme cases, the animus against having children is pathological. About a decade ago, I wrote an article titled “Sex, Life, and Death” that was prompted by hearing the statistic that the second-most common cause of death among pregnant American women was homicide. It turns out that some men murder their lovers for getting pregnant. Those stunted males so intensely want to avoid being saddled with the responsibility of parenthood that they murder their own children and the women bearing them. In their warped mentality, a woman is a sex toy with no right to get pregnant.
Fortunately for all of us, enough Americans are still opting for parenthood in spite of all the cultural and societal headwinds they face. One formidable challenge American parents face today is from those who should be most supportive of children: their teachers — or more precisely, from certain powerful elements within the public school establishment. Let me hasten to say that there are many wonderful, talented teachers in our schools who are real blessings to the children fortunate enough to be enrolled in their classes. Hats off to all of those good people.
The problem is the progressive ideological mindset that permeates public education. When I went back to college after earning my bachelor’s degree to add a teaching certificate, I can honestly state that I was never taught a single thing that would make me a better teacher.
All I ever got were steady doses of thinly disguised collectivist doctrines about how the purpose of education was to “socialize” kids, to make them malleable, compliant, and willing to accept a place in the social order that supposedly enlightened leaders would plan for society. I know of teachers active in teachers unions who believe fervently that parents should surrender their children to public education starting at two years of age, because the “experts” employed by the state know much more about proper child-rearing than parents themselves do.
And then there are the many children in poor neighborhoods, often minorities, who want desperately to escape dysfunctional schools that cripple their intellectual development, but the teachers union and their progressive political allies conspire to deny these children the freedom to attend a better school. That monstrous policy shows that the political establishment doesn’t give a hoot about children, but has become a cynical, oppressive alliance willing to ruin children’s lives for their own self-serving purposes. No wonder so many American parents opt for homeschooling.
One more peek of gloom before I close on an encouraging note: Being a parent in the future isn’t going to get any easier. I am thinking of the potential issues pertaining to genetic engineering. Think of the decisions would-be parents will have to make if the technology of genetic modification gets to the point where humans can customize designer babies. Will couples planning to have children want to equip them with genius IQs? What if you believe that nature shouldn’t be meddled with, but other parents are choosing to use genetic engineering to boost their child’s intelligence (or any other desirable characteristic)? Would you choose to leave your child relatively inferior? And what if the state starts regulating who and how many babies can be genetically enhanced? Then our society would be on the threshold of something akin to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World with the state, not parents, making life-altering decisions about their children.
The Joys of Parenthood — OK, let’s walk back from that peek into potential darkness and close by celebrating the joy of having children. For those of you reading this who are parents or planning to become parents, God bless you. You are hugely important and much to be respected. You are the ones perpetuating our society and giving us a future, and given some of the challenges swirling around us today, you are to be commended for your courage and strength.
The rewards of parenthood are considerable and incalculable. Think of all you can accomplish as a parent — to give the gifts of life and love and then to be repaid with the priceless reward of a child’s love.
Thank you for all you are doing for society by teaching your children right from wrong. If you are religious, you have the joyous privilege of sharing with your children the good news of a loving God — a just God who will give a full reward for goodness — if not in this world, then in the next. What a sublime accomplishment it is to impart to your children the ability to feel comfortable in their own skin and to gain confidence and a sense of self-worth and security. What a rich reward you will deservedly receive for sharing a love with your children that is so special that, when they grow up, they will want to recreate that love by starting a family of their own.
The bottom line is that parenting — like everything else in this world — is confronted by challenges and pitfalls, but it can bring a joy unmatched by anything else this world has to offer. Again, God bless you parents — and your children.
Educational Malpractice on a Massive Scale: The Exploitation and Indoctrination of Children
During the World Economic Forum conclave in Davos, Switzerland, at the end of January, more than 60,000 students around the world boycotted their classes to urge world leaders to do more about climate change, according to a report from the British newspaper The Guardian.
While teenagers demonstrating peacefully may seem innocuous, if you look beneath the surface, the view is disturbing, scandalous, and ugly.
I commend kids for caring about their world. And I strongly believe there are times when children can teach their elders valuable lessons. Not only can they teach us beautiful lessons of kindness and forgiveness, they can also teach us practical knowledge that we lack. Think about how many adults turn to youngsters for help handling their digital devices.
What is so ominous about the kids’ climate protests is the cynical way in which their elders have exploited them. The kids acted in good faith on the basis of what adults — particularly their schoolteachers — have taught them about climate change. These caring young people have been taught (actually, mistaught) the simplistic and fallacious dogmas of politicized climate change “science” — that CO2 is the grand regulator of global temperatures and that, in the reckless words of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “the world is going to end in twelve years if we don’t address climate change.”
I’ve repeatedly rebutted the assertions of the climate-change narrative of the global political elite, but the reality of these recent (and upcoming) student protests is how those poor kids have been duped and exploited by their schools. What business do the teachers of the world have in teaching wildly speculative theories as fact, and influencing students to become activists in a particular ideological and political movement?
Indoctrination — My colleagues and I have lamented that the students coming into our college classrooms have had increasingly poor writing skills over the past few decades. One reason for this is that students are being taught climate-change hokum instead of the basic skills that would serve them so well in their adult careers. Education should teach youngsters how to think rather than indoctrinate them into what to think.
And what are these youthful climate-change protesters really protesting? Look at what the 16-year-old Swedish girl who started the strike movement said:
“Some people — some companies and some decision-makers in particular — have known exactly what priceless values they are sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. . . . I want to challenge them into real and bold climate action, to set their economic goals aside and to safeguard the future living conditions for humankind. I ask you to stand on the right side of history.”
The anti-capitalist bias in these words is obvious. What she is really protesting isn’t global warming, about which humans can do so little, it’s markets and profits — in short, capitalism. And this goop about “the right side of history” is pure Marxist claptrap.
The educational malpractice of indoctrinating children into being climate-change warriors (a variation of the Hitler Youth) has been deliberate. Indeed, it has been an elaborate, thoroughly thought-out strategy of the Left for decades. Progressives, socialists, and Communists, have never been shy about expressing their intention to use schools for indoctrination.
Marx’s 10th point in his 10-point platform for how to achieve socialism by the democratic route was for the state to control the schools.
The late Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci wrote:
“Socialism will triumph by first capturing the culture via infiltration of schools, universities, churches, and the media by transforming the consciousness of society.”
UNESCO, the U.N. bureaucracy that focuses on children, wrote in its book, called “Education for Sustainable Development Toolkit,” that “Children are the key to changing society’s long-term attitudes to the environment.”
The same blatant propaganda campaign has infiltrated many of America’s public schools. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the National Environmental Education Act, which put the green foxes in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in charge of guarding the chicken coops of our public schools, by clearing green educational materials through an Office for Environmental Education.
A report in Education Week in 2011 noted that students in Maryland had to demonstrate that they had learned the mandatory green curriculum in order to graduate. Another 2014 report “found that global warming is being taught in almost every area of the [UK] curriculum.”
As the report’s authors write in their conclusion: “The fact that children’s ability to pass their exams — and hence, their future life prospects — appears to depend on being able to demonstrate their climate-change orthodoxy is painfully reminiscent of life in Communist-era Eastern Europe or Mao’s China.”
I mentioned Ocasio-Cortez above. She is young enough to have gone through her entire academic career subjected to green propaganda, so her alarmism shouldn’t surprise us. Even where I lived in the hinterlands, the green curriculum has been in place for several decades.
Here’s a personal story: In the late 1990s, I served for four years on a curriculum advisory committee for my local school district. I examined the environmental curriculum in detail and discovered numerous errors. When I provided corrections to the curriculum coordinator, she looked annoyed when she accepted my report, and refused to make any changes in the curriculum.
As if the hijacking of education by ideologues to indoctrinate children isn’t reprehensible enough, there are more troubling aspects to green indoctrination in schools. The first is the psychological damage inflicted on innocent children. Many have suffered from anxiety and depression due to the lurid descriptions included in many climate-change predictions. The second is the threat to families.
Part of the green message drummed into impressionable children is that it is up to them to teach their ignorant or obtuse parents the “truth” about climate change. Lenin once told the Soviet commissars of education in 1923: “We must teach our children to hate their parents if they are not Communists.”
Well, the greens aren’t using the word “hate,” but they are suggesting to kids that their parents need to be corrected.
Al Gore told children a decade ago that while their parents undoubtedly mean well, they don’t have access to the latest “scientific” information that the students will be given in school. In other words, believe schools, and not your parents, if they doubt the alarmist scenario.
How fiendish and cruel! Teachers are putting children in a position where they have to choose between respecting and trusting their parents or respecting and trusting their teachers. The teachers have the advantage, because they have been pushing the same green message for years. I wonder how many young Americans are going to be alienated to various degrees from their parents because of disagreements about climate change.
For schools to take a side on controversial issues (besides being a departure from the correct purpose of school) is unfair to families. And picture what it must be like for those youngsters who realize at some point how they have been systematically deceived by their teachers: Can you imagine how hurt and betrayed they are going to feel?
Teaching the green agenda of climate alarmism in schools is child abuse. It’s diabolical, wrong, and un-American. It must be stopped.
Was Last Weekend a Portent of Things to Come?
What a nasty weekend! There were at least four reported cases of left-wing citizens abusing political officeholders or office-seekers either physically or verbally.
It’s concerning that surly, aggressive behavior is bubbling up already — a whopping 17 months before the election — and Antifa hasn’t even gotten into the act yet.
Here, in case you missed some of the action, is what happened.
This is the only one of the four incidents in which the politician involved isn’t running for president. It was also the only one in which a Republican was targeted, and the only one in which the politician was physically struck. A woman, reported to be a “former political rival” of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), hurled her drink (cup and contents) at the congressman, hitting him in the torso.
Thankfully, Gaetz wasn’t hurt. Indeed, given the nature of the projectile, the intent appears to have been to disrespect him, not to injure him. Compared to the attacks on two other Republican lawmakers in 2017 — the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and the smashing of Sen. Rand Paul’s ribs — what happened to Gaetz was mild. This has led to some pathetic attempts on the left to defend the woman’s actions.
So, what is the left’s standard — that attacks against Republicans are justifiable as long as they don’t send the target to the hospital? That’s setting the bar of permissible conduct far too low.
No member of Congress or congressional candidate should have to wonder if they’re going to be attacked for speaking in public about what policies they favor. Such actions are brutish and fascistic. They are an assault against our democratic system whereby citizens settle disagreements at the ballot box, and candidates are as free as the rest of us to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech. In fact, I’m sure that there are already decent, qualified citizens who have decided not to run for office because of the threat of such thuggery.
Why do progressive activists act as if the normal rules, laws, and social conventions don’t apply to them? Too many of them are so drunk with their own sense of moral superiority that they feel justified in assaulting those who disagree with them.
Headline No. 2: “Protester Grabs Mic from Kamala Harris”
A young man — apparently an animal rights protester — ran onto a stage where Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was speaking and seized her microphone. The man said he wanted more attention given to “a much bigger idea.” He didn’t get too far before he was removed from the stage — again, thankfully, without anybody sustaining an injury. From this incident, we can conclude that, as far left as the Democratic Party has turned early in this election cycle, it’s still too conservative for some people.
A message to this protester and other would-be protesters: If you want to call attention to your favorite cause, you are free to do so. Write articles and books, hand out flyers in public, rent a public hall and give a speech, run for office. But please don’t think you have a right to hijack someone else’s event. That is disrespectful, undemocratic, and a form of theft. It is also self-defeating. Many of us who sympathize with some animal rights’ groups’ less-extreme ideas will turn our backs on activists who don’t respect the rights of other human beings.
Happily, the last two incidents don’t involve any sort of physical harassment. The harassment was verbal. Democrats booed fellow Democrats running for their party’s presidential nomination for daring to compromise on the socialist agenda.
In the first of the two booing incidents, the crowd got onto former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper at the California Democratic Convention for saying, “Socialism is not the answer.” The democratic socialists are going to make life hard for any candidate who doesn’t hop aboard the “full speed ahead to socialism” train. The ideological zealots on the left are going to rip any candidate who offers them half or two-thirds of what they want.
They would rather risk four more years of President Donald Trump and achieve almost none of their goals, rather than unite behind a candidate who doesn’t promise them the whole loaf. Whether this gamble pays off for them may be the biggest story of Election Year 2020 and may chart the course for our country.
It will be interesting to see if any Democratic contenders who don’t unreservedly promote socialism gain any traction in the race. If so, expect a civil war in the Democratic Party; if not, it will be a standard-bearer for socialism versus Trump next year.
Hickenlooper wasn’t the only speaker at the California Democratic Convention who elicited boos. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney was booed for a solid minute for expressing reservations about “Medicare for All.”
“We should have universal health care, but it shouldn’t be the kind of health care that kicks 150 million Americans off their health care. . . . I want everyone to have health care, but it’s got to be a plan that works for every American.”
I suspect a majority of Americans would agree with such a reasonable statement, but the pro-socialism crowd rejected it roundly. This inspired the ever-outspoken Ocasio-Cortez to write on Twitter that Delaney should “sashay away” (i.e., drop out of the race).
Delaney actually was trying to do his party a favor by urging them to craft a Medicare for All program that would actually deliver on its promises. Apparently, though, the socialists are so convinced of the rightness of their cause that they care less about passing competent, helpful legislation than about squashing all opposition to their grandiose socialistic plans. What contempt this shows for the American people!
Last weekend’s incidents portend a toxic, bruising political brawl over the next year and a half. Fasten your seatbelts, folks. This could get uglier than anything that any living American has ever seen before. *
Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from The Epoch Times, and Visionandvalues.org, a publication of Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: A Force To Be Reckoned With
Whatever else you may think of her, first-time Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is a great American success story. Hers is a classic “triumph of the underdog” tale. Nobody expected her to upset 10-term incumbent Congressman and Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, Joe Crowley, in last June’s Democratic primary in her New York City congressional district, but she did. Using her apartment as her campaign headquarters and going door to door in her district, AOC proved once again that a motivated, hard-working American can succeed against long odds.
AOC is clever and shrewd in some ways, embarrassingly clueless in others. On the positive side, she is media savvy and shows astute political instincts. On the negative side, to put it mildly, her understanding of American government is deficient (she didn’t even know what the three branches of government are), her grasp of economic and history is minimal (she espouses the ideology of socialism despite its inherent flaws, e.g., no economic calculation or coordination is possible without private property, market-based prices, and a profit-and-loss calculus), and she seems oblivious to elementary arithmetic, as evidenced by her proposals for Uncle Sam to spend tens of trillions of dollars more than exist in spendable form.
Conservatives seem to think AOC will self-destruct by repeatedly showing her economic obtuseness, but they are wrong. They are underestimating her ability to exploit media and her political acumen. Last summer after her primary victory, AOC was a guest on “The View.” Channeling King David’s son Absalom — the prototype for using flattery and charm to further one’s political ambitions — she effusively hugged each of the five hostesses, gushing and giving them her best “Oh, I’m so privileged to meet you” greeting.
In her interview on “60 Minutes,” she alternately voiced clever, quotable sound bites at the expense of Republicans and responded to questions about her apparent factual inaccuracies by playing the role of a disarmingly innocent political neophyte who admittedly hadn’t mastered all the details, but whose heart is in the right place.
On Twitter, she drops the innocent act and reveals herself to be a rough-and-tumble street fighter. Examples: She rallied to the support of fellow freshman congresswoman Rashida Tlaib after Tlaib publicly referred to President Trump as a “motherf*****,” tweeting, “I got your back.” She also isn’t bashful about disrespecting non-Republicans. Advised by one-time Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman to take a more moderate approach, she caustically tweeted, “New party, who dis?”
Like it or not, AOC, by virtue of her two-million-plus Twitter followers and as the fresh new face alongside Bernie Sanders at the forefront of America’s democratic socialist movement, has established herself as a force to be reckoned with on the national stage. Her fund-raising clout is bound to be considerable. This will enable her to chart an independent course, much to the frustration of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Expect AOC to drag Democrats even further to the left whether they really want to go that way or not.
Politically, her proposals — no matter how over-the-top, ridiculous, or unviable — will actually enhance rather than hurt her popularity. As the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises wrote nearly six decades ago, it no longer matters, politically, “whether a measure is fit to produce the ends aimed at. What alone counts for [the politician] is whether the majority of voters favor or reject it.” Sadly, wisdom and knowledge are not nearly as important in democratic politics as impassioned promises for a Santa Claus government to give voters free goods. Voters believe in the Santa Claus fantasy, and AOC is playing Santa to the hilt, promising free health care, free college, etc.
Another factor enhancing AOC’s popularity is her public stance that she would rather lose her seat in Congress than compromise her principles. In this day and age when few politicians are known for sticking to their principles, AOC stands out from the crowd.
She may know precious little about sound economics, but she has a keen nose for power. That is why she advocates the abolition of the Electoral College — because it is an obstacle to the mighty (and mighty dangerous) power of unbridled majoritarianism that our wise Founders rightly understood to be one of the greatest threats to rights and liberty.
The important question going forward will not be the mind of AOC, but what kind of heart she has. Like most prominent leaders of socialist movements, she has a knack for taking care of Number 1. I am referring to her reported unwillingness to divide the wealth equally when her own financial interest is involved. A larger concern is her refusal, so far, to condemn the murderous regime (murder by bullets and starvation) of Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro. This raises the question of whether her support for socialism is that of a naive enthusiast or a convicted fanatic. Let’s hope that her mind isn’t so blinded by the imagined glory of her “grand plan” for a more humane world that she lacks the compassion to disavow socialist policies when they hurt the very people whom they were supposed to help.
“Justice” Is the Word of the Year, and “Social Justice” Is Its Orwellian Opposite
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has declared “justice” its “Word of the Year” for 2018, owing to a 74 percent year-over-year increase in searches for its definition.
The simple, everyday meaning of justice is the best: treating others fairly. Politically, it means that laws are to be written and administered so that everyone’s legal rights are impartially upheld.
Perhaps the reason why so many people are looking up the definition of “justice” is owing to the confusion caused by political activists twisting its meaning to advance their ideological agendas. Americans have always cherished the ideal of justice, and so those who would reform America seek to legitimize their political objectives by cloaking it in the garb of justice.
Most of the confusion stems from the use of the phrase “social justice.” This is a linguistically problematic phrase — a solecism. It is a pleonasm — a redundancy. Justice, without “social” to modify it, is inherently a social ideal. It’s about how we treat each other. You may say that a person isn’t being just with himself, but that is a private matter of no concern to the government. Only in the social realm of interpersonal interactions does justice properly become a matter of public policy.
Social Virtues — The concept of justice embraced by our Founding Fathers had been clearly articulated in 1759 by the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith cited three cardinal social virtues: prudence, justice, and beneficence.
By prudence, Smith meant that the first social obligation of any competent person is to provide for his own needs and wants so as not to burden others.
Smith considered the second social virtue, justice, to be the most important. It is “the main pillar that upholds the whole edifice” of society. Justice, according to Smith, “does no real positive good” and is “but a negative virtue” that “only hinders us from hurting our neighbor.” Writing 90 years after Smith, Frederic Bastiat, in his essay “The Law,” echoed Smith by defining justice as the absence of injustice, i.e., a society in which nobody’s rights are violated.
Smith writes that the third social virtue, beneficence (i.e., doing good for others), merits the highest praise and is the crown jewel of a good society. Beneficence, though, is never a duty: “Beneficence is always free, it cannot be extorted by force.”
If some citizens were to take the wealth of another citizen and give it to someone in need, that is an ersatz “beneficence” and an antisocial act of aggression against the basic right of property, thereby violating justice. (I write more about the difference between genuine and counterfeit charity in my article about the Good Samaritan.)
The ideal of justice shared by Smith and the founders meant that every citizen was to stand equal before the law, each having the same rights and responsibilities. (Obviously, owing to the abomination of slavery and unenlightened 18th-century attitudes toward women’s rights, the founding generation didn’t achieve complete justice.)
Each white, male citizen, whether rich or poor, was entitled to impartial justice, i.e., the same government protection of his basic rights of life, liberty, and property, as stipulated in the Bill of Rights. And each shared the same responsibilities inherent in that rights-based system: 1) to not infringe on the rights of fellow citizens; 2) to provide for one’s self and dependents (Smith’s virtue of “prudence”) since nobody had a right to someone else’s property; 3) to produce something of value to others in the social division of labor as the means of self-support.
In such a system of ordered liberty, each person reaps what he sows. However, under the influence of egalitarian ideas — the notion that, even though people quite naturally differ by aptitude, effort, and economic productivity, there should be economic parity between citizens — “social justice” advocates reject traditional justice.
Emerging Tyranny — Progressives and socialists want to redistribute wealth by replacing equal treatment before the law (i.e., justice) with a government-engineered regime of unequal rights and unequal responsibilities — based in the Communist ideology “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” “Social justice” means that those who diligently fulfill their social responsibility to produce wealth for others should also bear the additional responsibility of financially supporting those who do not fulfill their own responsibility to produce wealth.
Furthermore, those who fail to discharge their social responsibility to provide for themselves are given a “right” to a share of the property of those who do provide for themselves. In other words, under “social justice” theory, the rights of the non-productive are greater than the rights of the productive.
Thus, under “social justice,” traditional justice is inverted and perverted. Furthermore, peaceful social cooperation is supplanted with a socially disruptive political skirmish, in which citizens use government to appropriate the property of other citizens. In short, “social justice” is a code word for “antisocial injustice” — a linguistic deception that is positively Orwellian.
“Social justice” is Orwellian (not to mention un-American) in another sense, too: It seeks to overturn the American concept of government expressed in the Declaration of Independence and codified in the Constitution that holds government to be the protector of the sacred rights of life, liberty, and property, instead of being the instrument for violating those rights.
As John Adams warned, “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.”
We see signs of anarchical social decay and emerging tyranny all around us today. Under “social justice,” those who hold the reins of political power seek to dictate how much that Citizen A must do for Citizen B. “Social justice” warriors are top-down central planners — would-be tyrants — who believe that they are entitled to reshape society according to their vision. In their plans, they look down on their fellow man.
Smith wrote that these planners (he called them “the m[e]n of system”) view their fellow citizens as men on a chessboard to be moved about and controlled by the planner. Bastiat used the metaphors of a potter and his clay and a pruner and his trees to describe the power that planners want over their fellow man. This evokes Orwell’s cynical but accurate assessment of socialism in practice: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
The “social justice” crowd should remember the response of Jesus when a man asked him to tell his brother to share his inheritance with him. Jesus replied, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” The “social justice” advocates believe that they are more qualified than the most-just man who ever walked the Earth to impose a certain distribution of wealth on society. No wonder even the mild-mannered Smith cited their “arrogance.”
So, what is the antidote for “social injustice” with its antisocial injustice leading toward socialistic tyranny? It is simply to reaffirm justice. Let’s hope that those currently intoxicated by the Orwellian catnip of “social justice” awake to an honest recognition of what justice truly means.
Understanding “Democratic Socialism”
The goal of democratic socialists is socialism — i.e., government control of economic production. Genuine socialism, when practiced, inevitably leads to economic stagnation and ruin for the following reasons:
1. It destroys incentives.
2. It commits the intellectual error of treating human beings as fungible (i.e., the same, and therefore interchangeable) and so, socialist planners assume that their bureaucratic minions have the same specific knowledge and special talents that enable private entrepreneurs to create wealth more productively and efficiently.
3. It discards market-based prices — i.e., those based on supply and demand, thereby losing the ability to coordinate production rationally and allocate scarce resources efficiently. The inevitable result is the overproduction of some goods — thereby wasting scarce resources — and the underproduction of others, meaning that many people are unable to procure the things they want, making them poorer.
4. Central economic planners, no matter how brilliant or well-intentioned, don’t and can’t know what you and I want as well as you and I know what we want. Capitalism is a system of consumer sovereignty under which firms profit by producing what we want instead of producing what the government commands, as is the case under socialism. (Note: Cronyism isn’t capitalistic but socialistic, because cronyism involves governments, not consumers — “we the people” — determining which businesses prosper.)
The adjective “democratic” is employed to render socialism more palatable, more American, but the label can’t prevent the inherently impoverishing consequences of socialism — of government-planned and -controlled production.
“Democratic” merely specifies the means to the end. The patron saint of socialism, Karl Marx, wrote in The Communist Manifesto that there are two paths to socialism — the quick one of a violent revolution by “exploited” workers (his preference), or the more gradual, progressive implementation of socialism via democracy (see Chapter 2 of the Manifesto). A majority of U.S. workers have been too prosperous and satisfied with life to launch bloody revolutions, leaving the democratic path to socialism as the only viable strategy for American socialists to pursue.
The label “democratic socialism,” like its kindred labels “progressive” and “liberal,” have acted as fig leaves for American socialists, hiding their ultimate goal. In recent years, American socialists have been able to strive for socialism while having plausible deniability that they are socialists. They have truthfully stated that they haven’t explicitly advocated the government takeover of all the means of economic production. Here they have been coy. Instead of calling for complete control, their perennial agenda has called for more control. How much more? They never say — it’s open-ended. You are not likely to hear a socialist politician say that there is too much government control over economic production for the simple reason that socialists believe in and want government control over economic production. But it is significant that, led by Bernie Sanders, progressives now feel safe enough to come out of the closet and admit that they are (democratic) socialists.
Don’t be fooled by the adjective “democratic.” It is not benign. Wait a minute, you say. Isn’t democracy good? Isn’t that what America is all about? Well, as the TV commercial used to say, “Not exactly.”
The word democracy is linguistically problematical, due to ambiguities and different usages. On the positive side, the United States is a democratic system, meaning that people are to be free and that our political system makes government subservient and accountable to the people. The 19th-century poet, Walt Whitman, articulated the essence of America’s democratic ideal thusly:
“… Government can do little positive good to the people, [but] it may do an immense deal of harm. And here is where the beauty of the Democratic principle comes in. Democracy would prevent all this harm. It would have no man’s benefit achieved at the expense of his neighbors. . . . This one single rule, rationally construed and applied, is enough to form the starting point of all that is necessary in government; to make no more laws than those useful for preventing a man or body of men from infringing on the rights of other men.”
The benign version of democracy is rights-based. So is our American constitution.
However, democracy is also a theory of power, and government power poses a perpetual threat to individual rights. That is why American founders James Madison and John Adams abhorred democracy while Communist/socialist icons Marx and Lenin were enthusiastic advocates of democracy.
The contrast is stark:
Adams: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
Madison: “. . . democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
Marx: “The way to achieve socialism is for the masses to ‘win the battle of democracy.’ ” (Manifesto, Chapter 2).
Lenin: “A democracy is a state which recognizes the subjection of the minority to the majority.”
When democracy becomes crude majority rule, nobody’s rights are safe. Instead of peacefully trading with each other in a system where property rights are secure, society degenerates into a vicious squabble as various groups of citizens demand that government give them benefits paid for by other citizens. Many historians have observed the unstable, destructive tendencies of democracy, but the British archeologist and historian Sir Flinders Petrie best articulates the danger of democratic socialism: “When democracy has attained full power, the majority without capital necessarily eat up the capital of the minority and civilization steadily decays.”
Simply because a majority favors something doesn’t make it right or just. Remember, democratic majorities voted for the executions of Jesus and Socrates — two of the most heinous, unjust events in human history. Crude majoritarian democracy can be as violent and oppressive as any other form of tyranny.
Democracy in the eyes of democratic socialists boils down to this: There are more of us than there are of you, so we will take your property and dispose of it as we see fit. This is the primitive ethos of “might makes right.” It embodies the immorality of the thug, the robber, the thief. In the fraudulent name of “social justice,” it tramples genuine justice. It is hell-bent on replacing our rights-based constitutional order with top-down central economic planning — i.e., with a tyranny that dictates who produces what for whom.
Democratic socialists want to replace our rights-based, capitalistic system — a system which, despite its imperfections and inconsistencies, has brought more freedom and more prosperity to more people than any other system — with socialism, a system that has oppressed and impoverished people wherever it has been implemented (see Venezuela today).
Sadly, the degree of economic and historical ignorance among Americans may result in a majority voting for our own destruction. Wouldn’t future historians have a field day explaining such folly?
Bill of Rights Day 2018: A Time to Reflect
Dec. 15, 2018, was Bill of Rights Day. The Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments) appended to our constitution took effect on Dec. 15, 1791 — 227 years ago. In viewing the status of the Bill of Rights today, it’s possible to adopt either a “the glass is half empty” or a “half full” perspective.
Certainly, relative to China, the Bill of Rights keeps Americans freer. In China, the government is oppressing the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang Province in ways specifically forbidden in the United States by the Bill of Rights. The Chinese government can order one of its agents to live in a family’s house, or send anyone without a trial to a “re-education camp” merely for having given voice to religious ideas, thereby separating parents from their children and often depriving families of their primary breadwinner.
Such tyranny is blocked in the United States by our First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and religion; Third Amendment, which states that government agents cannot occupy houses without permission; Fourth Amendment, the ban on “unreasonable searches and seizures”; Fifth Amendment, prohibiting any deprivation of liberty without “due process of law” — i.e., a lawful public trial by jury and with guaranteed legal counsel as per our Sixth Amendment; and the Eighth Amendment, which bans “cruel and unusual punishments,” such as the arbitrary separation of citizens from their families even though they have done no harm.
Yet, as grateful as we should be that the Bill of Rights protects us from the same cruel oppression of the Chinese regime, the Bill of Rights’ legal protections for Americans have eroded over the past century or so. Just as the body of our Constitution has been mutilated over the years, so it is with our Bill of Rights.
State Power — As is the case in China, the aggression against individual rights come from those who believe that the state must have the power to overrule individual rights in the name of the common good. The ideology that exalts the state as above all is diametrically opposed to the Founders’ vision and values.
The purpose of the Bill of Rights was to codify into the supreme law of the land the principle of government set forth in our Declaration of Independence. The essential premise of the Declaration is that “all men are created equal [and] endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” and that the purpose of government — its very raison d’être — is “to secure these rights.” Further, “that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”
In other words, the government was to serve under citizens, not rule over them.
The Founders — generally wise and learned men — were students of history. They knew that the perennial threat to those sacred rights of individuals was the power exercised by governments. The entire Bill of Rights was written to circumscribe the power and ability of the federal government to infringe on individual rights. This point is unmistakable when one reads the Ninth and Tenth Amendments together. Indeed, these two are rightly understood as Siamese twins.
The Ninth deals with rights. It states, “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” In other words, if a particular right is not specified in the Constitution, the default assumption is that the people have that right.
The Tenth expressly limits the federal government’s power: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people” — i.e., if the Constitution fails to explicitly authorize or stipulate a specific power, then the federal government does not have that power.
There you have it: Where the Constitution is silent, the benefit of the doubt always belongs to individuals’ rights over government power.
Despite that clear language, the federal government has arrogated to itself power to intrude into previously private economic matters. Those extra-constitutional — and therefore unconstitutional — areas of intervention include agriculture, housing, labor, energy, education, health care, retirement, and so on.
Two of the more pernicious results of the expansion of the federal government beyond its constitutional confines are: 1) an unfathomably gigantic national debt that will cruelly burden our children; and 2) a chronic toxicity in public discourse now that nearly every corner of our economic lives has become public and political instead of a private economic issue.
The Founders viewed private property as key inalienable rights that government must uphold. Said John Adams, “If ‘Thou shalt not covet’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.” Said James Madison, “[T]hat alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man what is his own.”
Thus, the founders adopted the Fifth Amendment stipulating that “No person . . . [should] be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” That meant that even if 99 percent of Americans believed that a fellow citizen had accumulated too much wealth, they could not justly take it from him, even by majority vote. “Due process of law” referred to a legal trial wherein the only justification for taking property from a person was in retribution for crimes committed by that person; an innocent person’s property was off-limits.
That all changed, of course, with the adoption of the Sixteen0th Amendment authorizing a progressive (Marxian) income tax. Since then, democratic majorities have striven to plunder as much private wealth as they can to fund their grandiose government programs.
Erosion of Rights — The progressive ideology that believes that state power is the proper agent to attain a just society consistently wars against the Bill of Rights. For example, progressives — not so unlike the Communist rulers of China — have whittled away at the First Amendment rights of free speech and religion.
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, close to 90 percent of U.S. colleges “maintain policies that restrict or could restrict student and faculty expression.” And who can forget the Obama administration’s relentless insistence that religious sects that view abortion as murder be compelled to purchase insurance that would cover abortions?
The progressive left also wages perennial war against the Second Amendment right of non-criminals to own firearms. When one remembers the Founders’ vision of government — that all of its powers are derived from the people — then to say that government law enforcement officers (the deputed agents of the people) may carry guns to defend the population, but that the people themselves (the principals whose rights government agents are charged with protecting) may not themselves own, have, carry, and use those same means to defend their lives is absurd.
The true polarization of America’s body politic today is the conflict between the principle that individual rights are primary and government power secondary (the Founders’ vision) and the progressives’ belief that government power must be supreme so that allegedly wise leaders can plan and construct a great society by controlling citizens’ wealth and lives.
It all boils down to the age-old battle between freedom and tyranny.
As we reflect on our hallowed, but tattered, Bill of Rights this year, we would do well to recall an observation that U.S. Sen. Daniel Webster made in 1837: “In every generation, there are those who want to rule well — but they mean to rule. They promise to be good masters — but they mean to be masters.”
The Bill of Rights may be the best legal protection against such ambitious people ever devised in human history. But no constitution or bill of rights is ever self-enforcing. The people have to have the will and determination to uphold it.
Those of us who love liberty and understand the importance of individual rights have an uphill task ahead of us. We need to rebuild the ethical foundations of the American republic if we are to remain a free people. *
Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from The Epoch Times, and Visionandvalues.org, a publication of Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.
Ready for Some Good News?
We are constantly bombarded with bad news. There are disasters, dangers, challenges, and woes. On the political scene, we find perpetual discord peppered with lurid denunciations and shrill condemnations. Media reports are alternately dismaying, disappointing, distressing, disgusting, or depressing. But despair not, friends: All is not lost!
Here let me serve you a heaping helping of good news: The world is more prosperous and more peaceful than it has ever been before.
To those of us who came of age in the ’60s, the two most pressing problems in the world were poverty and war. Fifty years later — Voila! — there is a lot less of those two blights on human life.
Let’s start with poverty: In the mid-1970s, there were approximately 3.5 billion people on Earth and two billion of them were poor and hungry. Forty years later, there were 7.3 billion people and 767 million in severe poverty. In less than two full generations, the proportion of severely poor humans has plummeted from five in nine to one in nine. Nothing remotely similar to this massive economic progress has ever happened before.
Look at poverty in a longer-term context: In 1820, near the dawn of the Age of Capitalism, 94 percent of people were poor. Indeed, throughout all of human history before then, only a tiny elite prospered while over 90 percent of humanity barely subsisted. At the end of World War II, there had been significant progress, but over 70 percent of the people alive were severely poor. Then look: in 1981, 44 percent of humans were severely poor; in 1990, 37 percent; 2010, 16 percent; 2013, 10.7 percent. This is an astonishing achievement.
Here let me interject a cautionary note: While we are on a trend to potentially eliminate severe poverty entirely by 2030, don’t count on that happening. Flawed humans have an amazing capacity to mess things up. Just look at Venezuela today. In 1950, Venezuela had the fourth-highest per capita GDP in the world. Today, crippled by socialist policies, Venezuela has been reduced to an economic basket case with people starving to death. (Americans enthralled by Bernie Sanders, take note.)
Now, back to the good news: More people are enjoying peace and prosperity than ever before. Poverty has receded to the degree that governments around the world abandoned socialistic policies and unleashed market forces. Billions of people gained greater freedom and opportunity to work, invest, produce, profit, and trade with each other, both domestically and internationally.
Indeed, an under-appreciated aspect of market liberalization (i.e., the freeing of economic activity from government controls) has been the increased freedom to trade across national borders. After two world wars with a trade war/depression sandwiched in between, enlightened statesmen in the 1940s (with Americans taking the lead) worked diligently to craft a more peaceful, prosperous world by lowering trade barriers and strengthening commercial ties.
The underlying economics is simple: Every time the social division of labor is expanded through the inclusion of more people in the marketplace, the greater the range of talents and products available to consumers and the more competition, specialization, efficiency, comparative advantages, and economies of scale impel producers to improve quality and lower prices. In short, more trade leads to more prosperity. And as greater international commerce demonstrates that trade increases prosperity, people realize that it is self-defeating to wage war against the very people who are supplying things we want.
The theory that trade conduces to peace has been borne out in practice. As international trade has expanded greatly since WWII, the incidence of war has plummeted. By one calculation, the number of wars was ten times greater in the century before 1950 than in the 50 years after. Harvard scholar Steven Pinker avers, “the world is less violent now than at any time in history.” Let us be grateful.
The post-WWII order — more trade, more prosperity, and more peace — is worth preserving. We should celebrate the amazing progress against the twin scourges of poverty and war, even as we continue to aim for their eventual elimination. Let us urge our leaders to remove the remaining barriers to trade. True, current trade rules are not always fair. They need to be improved, as President Trump is trying, but let’s not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good and collapse the post-WWII order of trade and peace. Our unprecedentedly peaceful and prosperous world is a whole lot better than a world of national isolation, lower standards of living, and war.
Good News, Bad News about Divorce
First, the good news: “Millennials Are Causing the U.S. Divorce Rate to Plummet.” As reported by Ben Steverman on Bloomberg.com, Census Bureau data show that millennials’ divorce rate is so much lower than baby boomers’ divorce rate that the overall divorce rate has plunged by 18 percent from 2008 to 2016. The evidence indicates that young couples are less likely to rush into marriage and subsequently realize they had made a mistake.
Unfortunately, as encouraging as a falling divorce rate sounds on the surface, there is some bad news associated with it, too. As the Steverman report states:
“Many poor and less educated Americans are opting not to get married at all. They’re living together [and] often raising kids together [but] studies have shown these cohabiting relationships are less stable than they used to be.”
Although marriage is one of the most private institutions in a society, the state of marriage in a society has profound economic consequences. Repeated tabulations of data by social scientists shows a high correlation between being married and being prosperous. Economist Robert Whaples argues that after people get married, on average they are perceptibly more productive and earn more regardless of whether they were born prosperous or poor.
Further, Whaples shared key statistics about poverty among the married and unmarried. In 2005 (the most recent year for which he had data at the time he filmed his lecture series), the poverty rate was 7.8 percent for intact white American families and 8.2 percent for intact black American families. Combined with contemporary U.S. Census Bureau data that the poverty rate for unmarried mothers with children was 40 percent while it was only 8 percent for married couples with children, we can form two conclusions: 1) The much higher incidence of poverty or near-poverty among black Americans is not a racial gap, but a marriage gap, attributable to the much higher rate of white American families remaining intact compared to black American families. 2) In the words of policy analyst Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, marriage is “America’s greatest weapon against child poverty.”
Another salient point in Steverman’s report about America’s falling divorce rate was that the difference in marriage rates among the economically well-to-do and the economically marginal members of our society is “a sign of America’s widening chasm of inequality.” Yes, it is, but this trend is nothing new; on the contrary, it has been going on for decades.
The widening chasm of economic inequality to which Steverman referred is one of the central points in Charles Murray’s 2012 book Coming Apart. In it, Murray cited abundant data showing that the economic gap between affluent and economically marginal Americans has paralleled the widening gap between married and unmarried adults. Although it would be an oversimplification to assert that marital status is the single determinant of whether an American leads a prosperous life or not, it is clear that the perennial divide between the economic haves and have-nots is a divide between the married and unmarried.
The seemingly intractable persistence of a two-tier society must be frustrating the heck out of the social justice warriors and the inequality fanatics. The whole social engineering cult is besotted with the belief that it can construct a “great society” — i.e., one in which everyone shares more fully in the fruits of affluence — from the top down. The increasing incidence of unmarried Americans thwarts that egalitarian goal.
What, then, are the social planners to do? Would a federal Department of Marriage produce a larger number of happier marriages? Or should Uncle Sam ban marriage for everyone on the ground that it produces unequal economic outcomes? Even the most fervent of social planners can see what a nonstarter that is. Should married taxpayers pay a penalty to subsidize their poorer, unmarried compatriots? Would the favorite progressive prescription, “Raise taxes on rich corporations,” somehow result in more Americans marrying or help already married couples stay together? Hardly.
The marriage/wealth gap should enable everyone to see the limits of social engineering. There are certain things that the state simply cannot do. No government policy, program, or agency can mold citizens into individuals with loving hearts and the strength of character to accept responsibility and make long-term commitments.
Conservatives don’t have an easy answer for this problem either, although they reject out of hand the notion that it is up to government to “fix” the marriage problem.
That leads me to a humble suggestion for how more Americans can build a foundation for lasting marriages and the economic prosperity that generally follows. A successful marriage flourishes among individuals who are selfless enough to love others and to honor their duties. Marriage works best if the marriage partners have glimpsed the spiritual truths that it is sometimes better to give than to receive and to be of service to others instead of always prioritizing self-indulgence. Marriage is strengthened when husband and wife share the noble aspiration to live for a higher cause than just momentary whims and desires. Where are such values to be taught and inculcated? In church — maybe not in every church, but for 2,000 years, church has done much to prepare people for the demanding and fulfilling joys of marriage. Turning to the divine for guidance has blessed the lives of billions of people, including many generations of Americans. It can do the same today, if people will give it a try.
Spending More on Debt Than Defense
The financial health of the federal government has been deteriorating for decades. Unable to break free from our bipartisan addiction to deficit spending, the national debt has continued to rise relentlessly. This has brought us within sight of a grim milestone: the day when the interest that Americans have to pay on the national debt exceeds what we pay for national defense. According to The Wall Street Journal article, “U.S. on a Course to Spend More on Debt Than Defense,” we will reach that baleful milestone in only five years.
The figures are startling. In 2023, military spending is projected to be more than $700 billion. Yet in that same year the annual interest that taxpayers will pay on the national debt will be even higher.
You can argue that the federal government spends too much on defense. That is an unknowable except in retrospect, but the cost of spending too much on defense is almost certainly less than the cost of not spending enough. Whatever you think about defense spending, at least it is for present consumption. By contrast, interest on the national debt is for past consumption — over $27 trillion worth by 2023. That is how much young taxpayers will have to pay to service the debt run up by their elders.
When the enormity of this predicament dawns on stressed taxpayers, progressives assuredly will blame defense spending for our massive indebtedness. Of course, progressive opposition to defense spending has been a virtual constant for decades.
The fundamental problem with blaming Uncle Sam’s sorry fiscal state on defense is that, unlike those myriad other federal programs that have contributed to the national debt, defense spending is one of the few activities that Uncle Sam engages in that is explicitly authorized by the U.S. Constitution. For well over a century now, animated by the belief that the federal government should provide economic assistance to Americans, progressives have pushed for government to expand into areas of life never envisioned by the Founders nor authorized by amendments to the Constitution. It is no wonder that progressives attacked Justice Kavanaugh from the moment he was nominated. They fear and despise his respect for the text of the Constitution, because they want to spend more money on things not stipulated in the Constitution and less on what is stipulated in the Constitution.
Indeed, the progressive agenda of expanding government beyond its historical, constitutional confines has been hugely successful. Defense spending as a share of the federal budget has fallen from an average of 48.1 percent from 1792 to 1860 to under 25 percent today.
Defense spending no longer takes up the largest share of federal spending. In Fiscal Year 2015, Uncle Sam spent $609 billion on military programs, $1,051 billion on Medicare and health spending, and $1,275 billion on Social Security, Unemployment & Labor.
Today, military spending is only the third largest category in the federal budget. In five years, when interest payments on the national debt surpass it, military spending will be the fourth largest.
The federal government is in uncharted waters, financially speaking. Historically, the federal government incurred significant debt only in wartime and then whittled away at that debt during peacetime. In the modern era, when federal spending expanded into new areas, the national debt has swollen rather than shrunk during peacetime. The fiscal problem, then, is not due to military spending, but to other spending.
Sooner or later, something will have to give. We eventually will have to learn to live within our means. I don’t say that as a matter of opinion, but as a law of nature. It simply isn’t possible to live beyond one’s means indefinitely. The longer it takes for us to learn that lesson, the more painful the convulsions of a future debt crackup will be.
One Judge’s Role in Sabotaging the Keystone XL Pipeline Project
Last week I was chatting with a friend who asked me the current status of the Keystone XL pipeline project. This is the pipeline that would transport over 800,000 barrels per day of oil from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska. There it would connect with existing pipelines that feed into the oil refineries in the gulf coast region.
President Barack Obama had sided with environmentalists in blocking the construction of the pipeline whereas President Donald Trump has openly supported this project, both before and after taking the oath of office. Indeed, two months into his presidency, the State Department issued the necessary permit for the pipeline to cross the U.S-Canadian border.
I don’t know if my friend and I jinxed the project, but late last week a federal judge declared that he was putting the project on hold. By taking this aggressive action, U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris has endeared himself to “environmentalists who want to keep fossil fuels in the ground” (to use the words of The Wall Street Journal’s reporter Miguel Bustillo).
This appears to be a case of judicial usurpation of the legislative and executive branches of government. Since when are judges supposed to determine our country’s energy policies? Environmentalist activists have been blocking the Keystone XL project for a decade through a series of legal delay tactics and, for eight years, with the cooperation of the Obama administration.
Judge Morris is demanding an updated environmental review “to weigh several additional factors, including the impact of lower oil prices on the project’s viability, its related greenhouse-gas emissions, and modeling of potential oil spills it could cause.” These are three transparent pretexts that the judge has no business requiring.
The first demand the judge made is for the private business interests that want to undertake this project should consider its economic viability. Really? Does he think that the people who want to build Keystone haven’t considered its potential for profit and loss? It’s their money; if they want to risk it, who is a judge to rule that they can’t?
The very premise of this request is absurd, because it implies that human beings can somehow calculate what future market prices will be. This is the arrogance of a socialistic central planning mentality. Nobody knows the future. On the positive side, increasing the production of energy sources in politically stable North America will enhance national security. It may also help to increase the supply of oil enough to push energy prices lower to the great benefit of Americans, and particularly poorer Americans who spend a higher percentage of their income on energy than do more affluent Americans. And if the project eventually goes bankrupt, well, the taxpayer isn’t on the hook. This is a private investment with the financial risk all borne by the private sector. It isn’t the judge’s role to interfere with the private decision of how much risk people are willing to take with their own property.
As for the second reason given for blocking construction of this pipeline, why should the builders of Keystone XL have to quantify the project’s carbon dioxide emissions? Until such a requirement becomes the law of the land universally applicable to every company, this is a discriminatory action. Besides, as I’ve written elsewhere it turns out that the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is significantly greening the earth while the heat-trapping capacity of this benign gas is close to maxed out.
Finally, the demand for “modeling” of potential oil spills is a red herring. Moving oil long distances through pipelines is not a new industry. Our country already is crisscrossed by thousands of miles of pipelines. Do accidents occasionally happen? Yes, but rarely. The big story is how countless barrels of fossil fuels have been transported safely day after day, year after year. It sounds like the judge suffers from a typical liberal desire, which is to live in a perfect and risk-free world. Sorry, sir, there is only perfection in heaven. To block a project because there is a small chance that something might go wrong is essentially prejudicial. It feels like the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report,” in which the police, employing psychics, arrested people before they committed a crime. That isn’t American justice.
We have laws in place to punish malfeasance, if and when it should occur. The companies that want to build the Keystone XL pipeline face powerful economic incentives to get it right. They’ve been jumping through regulatory and legal hoops for ten years. It’s time to quit persecuting them and let them get on with it.
As President Trump stated one time when he declared his support for Keystone: America is about building. The first steps to organize the project for building the Empire State Building happened in 1929. Construction began the following March and was finished one year and 45 days later. These obstructionist delay tactics are a disgrace to our national heritage.
The Politics of E15
On October 9, President Donald Trump announced that he was lifting the EPA’s ban on summertime sales of E15 — a motor fuel blend consisting of 15 percent ethanol instead of the usual 10 percent. Trump’s announcement is telling. It teaches much about politics, trade policy, and the sorry state of the environmentalist movement.
That Trump’s announcement was politically motivated is obvious. The proposed new policy was announced during a campaign visit to Iowa. A crucial biennial election loomed, and Trump unveiled his plan there to give a boost to the electoral prospects of Republicans in the Corn Belt.
Such a move was politically necessary after Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports triggered retaliatory tariffs that reduced American food exports to China and cut American farmers’ incomes. The president needed to demonstrate to farmers that he is looking out for their interests. The call for greater use of E15 — which would increase the demand for corn — was music to the ears of many voters in the Farm Belt.
This sequence of events — economically disruptive tariffs followed by a policy designed to mitigate or offset those disruptions — illustrates a profound truth about political economy. The great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises elucidated this truth in his essay, “Middle-of-the-Road Policy Leads to Socialism.” [Stay calm; I am not suggesting that Trump wants socialism!]
Mises’s point was that government intervention into markets, however well intentioned, inevitably impacts prices and patterns of production. Intervention helps some and hurts others. Those who now have a government-induced problem, like American farmers after the imposition of tariffs, expect the government to solve that problem. But whatever government does in the attempt to offset the damage its policies caused will further distort markets. This will stimulate cries for further intervention. Thus, the tendency of intervention is to breed further intervention.
Trump’s trade policy is developing as a “two steps forward, one step back” process. (Let’s hope it doesn’t end up being one step forward for every two steps back!) Clearly, the proposal for increased usage of E15 is a government subsidy to corn growers and the ethanol industry. It moves us even farther away from Trump’s professed goal of dropping all tariffs, trade barriers, and subsidies. Realistically, given our current political alignment, zero subsidies for American agriculture is inconceivable for the foreseeable future.
I have written before about the negative economic effects of using corn-based ethanol as a motor fuel. The negative environmental impacts are significant, too. Although some green groups, such as the Sierra Club, have warned about the environmental consequences of corn-based ethanol in the past, they have remained strangely silent about Trump’s plan to increase its usage. Apparently, they are too busy trying to use the climate change issue to scare Americans into embracing socialism to challenge a policy that truly is environmentally harmful. This underscores my long-held belief that preserving a healthy environment is not the primary goal of environmentalists.
Forty percent of the American corn crop already gets burned up in our vehicles’ engines. That represents millions of acres of land that are converted from wildlife habitat to tillage. It causes the use of who-knows-how-many tons of fertilizers that unnecessarily contaminates water (e.g., red tide in Florida).
Worst of all, any government policy that hastens the pace of water consumption in the Midwest, where aquifers already are dangerously depleted, is environmentally shortsighted. If environmentalists really cared about the environment more than they want to increase government control of the economy, they would oppose corn-based fuel more vigorously than they oppose fracking. Fracking does not jeopardize our precious water supply; corn-based ethanol does.
Remembering Soviet Dissidents and the Weaponization of Psychiatry
The New York Times obituary opened with a simple recitation of facts: “Zhores A. Medvedev, the Soviet biologist, writer and dissident who was declared insane, confined to a mental institution and stripped of his citizenship in the 1970s after attacking a Stalinist pseudoscience, died . . . in London.”
Zhores Medvedev, his twin brother Roy (still alive at 93), the physicist Andrei Sakharov, and the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Aleksandr Solzenitsyn were leading dissidents. They courageously put their lives on the line to smuggle manuscripts out of the Soviet Union. They wanted the outer world to learn the truth about the “the workers’ paradise” that so many Western intellectuals (some deluded, others having gone over to the dark side) praised.
A generation of Americans has been born since the Soviet Union, the USSR that President Ronald Reagan boldly labeled “the evil empire,” ceased to exist. They have little to no concept of how ferociously the USSR’s Communist tyranny suppressed dissent. As the Times obit of Dr. Medvedev illustrates, one Soviet technique of oppression was to declare that political dissidents were insane. They were then incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals where they were tormented and tortured. Some were used as human guinea pigs for dangerous experiments. (Shades of Hitler’s buddy, Dr. Mengele). Some even succumbed to the not-so-tender ministrations of those “hospitals.”
I recall one particular example of the disgusting abuse of human beings in Soviet psychiatric hospitals. Vladimir Bukovsky, who will turn 76 later this month, spent a dozen years being shuffled between Soviet jails, labor camps, and psychiatric hospitals. One of the “therapies” administered in a psychiatric hospital was putting a cord into his mouth, then threading it from his throat up through his nasal passages, and then drawing it out through one of his nostrils. (Maybe the cord went in the opposite direction; I’ve never been interested in memorizing torture techniques.) Alas, this Communist “treatment” did not “cure” Bukovsky of his rational (not irrational) abhorrence of tyranny and brutality.
The warped thought process that led to the perversion and weaponization of psychiatry in the Soviet Union can be traced back to Communist icon and thought leader, Karl Marx. Marx propounded a spurious doctrine known as “polylogism” to justify stifling dissent. According to Marx, different classes of people had different structures in their minds. Thus, Marx declared the bourgeoisie to be mentally defective because they were inherently unable to comprehend Marx’s (allegedly) revelatory and progressive theories. Since they were, in a sense, insane, there was no valid reason for Communists to “waste time” arguing with them. On the contrary, Communists were justified in not only ignoring or suppressing bourgeois ideas, but in liquidating the entire bourgeois class.
The practice of categorizing one’s enemies as “insane” became a ready tool of suppression in the Soviet State founded by Lenin and developed under Stalin. The USSR’s infamous secret police energetically wielded quack psychiatry as a club with which to destroy political dissidents.
The incarceration of Zhores Medvedev in psychiatric hospitals in the 1970s was a monstrous injustice. His “crime” was having exposed the bizarre pseudoscience of Lysenkoism that Stalin had embraced in the 1950s. Lysenko’s quack theories led to deadly crop failures and widespread starvation. Nevertheless, Stalin backed him by executing scientists who dared to disagree with Lysenko. Millions of innocents lost their lives because “truth” in the Soviet Union wasn’t scientific, but political.
Another vivid example of the destructive consequences of politicizing truth is related in Solzhenitsyn’s exposé of Soviet labor camps, The Gulag Archipelago. Certain Soviet officials decided to increase the steel shipped to a certain area. When the planners issued orders for trains to carry double the steel to the designated destination, conscientious engineers informed them that it couldn’t be done. They pointed out that the existing train tracks could not support such great weights. The politicians had the engineers executed as “saboteurs” for opposing “the plan.” What followed was predictable: The loads were doubled, the tracks gave out, and the designated area ended up getting less steel, not more.
This episode shows where the true insanity was in the USSR. The central planners believed that constructing their ideal country was simply a matter of will. Alas, reality doesn’t conform to the whims or will of any human being, but the arrogance of central planners remains stubbornly impervious to that inescapable facts of life. Instead, as the havoc wrought by Soviet central economic planners repeatedly demonstrated, the Communist central planners refused to abandon their insufferable self-delusion and mystical belief in the power of their own will to alter reality. This was the true insanity, compounded by the error of persecuting competent scientists like Zhores Medvedev.
Sadly, the practice of branding political opponents as “insane” is not confined to the now-defunct Soviet state. In 1981, when I was completing my master’s thesis about Solzhenitsyn, I telephoned an American college professor of history to ask whether he recalled if Solzhenitsyn had been granted honorary U.S. citizenship. (He wasn’t. President Ford didn’t want to offend the Soviet leadership.) The reply to my question was this: “Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn belongs in an insane asylum.” The virus of Marx’s polylogism is, unfortunately, alive and well in American academia.
As for Zhores Medvedev, may he now rest in peace and receive his reward for his integrity and courage. *
Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from The Epoch Times, and Visionandvalues.org, a publication of Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.
The Kavanaugh Accusation: A Defining Moment for #MeToo
What is #MeToo’s mission? Is it to work for a reduction of abusive sexual behavior and to promote greater respect for each other, or is it to weaponize sex for partisan, ideological purposes? We may find out soon.
Just last week, I wrote in support of #MeToo’s efforts to curb predatory sexual behavior, saying that they could be more effective and helpful if they would dare to challenge the rich and socially accepted purveyors (Hollywood, Playboy, et al.) of socially corrosive sexual titillation.
Now, one week later, #MeToo is in a position to squander their long-term effectiveness in one huge misstep.
All they have to do to blow it is to hitch their reputation to the attempt to derail Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court on the flimsy basis of unproven accusations of impropriety as a minor. If that happens, #MeToo will lose a ton of respect, credibility, good will, and moral authority.
If, going forward, #MeToo focuses its efforts on adults using positions of power to coerce or extort sexual favors from those beneath them in a hierarchical organization, they will enjoy mainstream support.
But, if #MeToo starts going after every man who crossed a line as a callow teenager, the result will be a circus. Heaven knows, we have enough problems to address in the present without reliving thousands of years- and decades-old cases of adolescent impropriety of various degrees of veracity.
Yes, let’s do more to teach today’s youth about proper conduct toward members of the opposite sex, but let’s reserve the heavy artillery of branding someone for life for incorrigible adults who pose a present threat to decency and respect today.
Hopefully, there are enough sober thinkers in the #MeToo movement to see how much support they will lose if they call for the unjust ruination of a man’s career on the basis of unproven allegations.
Sadly, two female U.S. senators are setting horrible examples. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has stated that Kavanaugh should be disqualified “given what we know.” Sorry, senator, but we don’t know what did or didn’t happen 36 years ago.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) apparently blames all males for sexual misconduct, and has called on men to “step up” and “do the right thing.” Well, I stepped up last week in support of curbing sexual predations. Now I hope the senator will reciprocate and do the right thing by not lynching Judge Kavanaugh on the basis of an uncorroborated allegation dependent on fuzzily recalled events from 36 years ago.
Hypocrisy — What makes progressives’ attempt to torpedo the nomination of a brilliant and fair-minded jurist, who by all accounts has been a model of upright behavior throughout his professional career, is the rank hypocrisy of it all.
Liberals have long blamed the environment in which someone was raised for the occurrence of crime and poverty. While I don’t think environment explains or exculpates everything, it can indeed be a potent factor. So it is with sexual misconduct. That is why, in my article last week, I urged #MeToo to criticize today’s social environment in which recreational sex is glorified and chastity and monogamy are devalued.
Liberals also have customarily come down on the side of lenience for minors who have broken laws. Indeed, while we can disagree about how much leniency to show to adolescents, we need to make some allowances for juvenile misbehavior, for minors are not fully mature individuals either emotionally or psychologically. Many of us made mistakes as teenagers that we would never make as adults.
The eleventh-hour attack on Kavanaugh reminds me of how, six years ago, the left went after GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for some high school mischief. I happened to live in the same dormitory as Mitt that year, and wrote about the incident for Forbes.com.
Even though I think Mitt did what he was accused of (something I won’t believe about Kavanaugh without credible corroboration), I feel that he learned and grew from his overzealous behavior. Kids are kids, they make mistakes, and to say that a mistake in youth disqualifies a person from doing honorable work as an adult is wrong and cruel. (It’s also impractical, because if only people who never stepped out of line as kids can be eligible for high office, those offices will have to remain vacant.)
Progressives say that standards of conduct must be stricter for someone to occupy a position as powerful as a seat on the Supreme Court. That is laughable coming from people who gave Bill Clinton a pass for his alleged serial sexual depredations, even though as president he had more power than a Justice Kavanaugh ever would.
Furthermore, Clinton’s known transgressions as an adult were far more outrageous than Kavanaugh’s unknowable, alleged transgressions as a youth. To have given Clinton a pass, but to condemn Kavanaugh is as dishonest a double standard as can be imagined. And to pretend that the Clinton episode is “ancient history” and that progressives’ standards have risen over the two decades since is bunk.
Just two years ago, those now arguing that an alleged sexual assault by an intoxicated teenager disqualifies an individual from high office for life wanted Hillary Clinton — a woman who had allegedly thrown dirt on the female accusers of her husband — to be president of the United States. How utterly cynical.
Yogi Berra famously quipped, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” #MeToo now finds itself at a fork in the road.
In this case, it is more than obvious which fork #MeToo should take. They should opt for the higher road of evenhandedly and consistently working to uproot sexual exploitation from the workplace, and shun the downward path toward becoming nothing but another demagogic tool of partisan politics.
The #MeToo Movement’s Blind Spot
The #MeToo movement has scored a significant victory: Les Moonves has “stepped down” as CBS chairman and CEO after multiple accusations of predatory sexual behavior spanning many years came to light.
The #MeToo movement appears to be an amorphous, spontaneous uprising against people in positions of power who have engaged in serial sexual predation. That strikes me as a quintessentially American phenomenon. Whatever the particulars of the movement’s structure, leadership, etc., it is accomplishing several worthy objectives.
First, justice: Moonves’ comeuppance illustrates the old Biblical principle that one reaps what one sows (Galatians: 6:7). What “perfect justice” in this case would be, I cannot venture to say, but there is at least partial justice now that Moonves’ victims see him paying the price of public disgrace and removal from his position of power as a consequence of his misdeeds.
Second, deterrence: Clearly, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg during this, the first year of #MeToo. That means that there are a lot of guilty men (and a few women) out there who are sweating bullets that their shameful mistreatment of others (whether violently criminal or “merely” unethical, obnoxious, and abusive) will be revealed. And for others who haven’t yet crossed the line to engage in predatory sexual misconduct, most will be far more likely now than they were a year ago to refrain from crossing that line.
Third, accountability: The dam has broken. The notion that one could engage in such ugly behavior with impunity and hide safely behind an unwritten code of silence has been shattered. Notice has been served: Do it, and you will pay a heavy price.
This is all to the good. The norms of our society are changing for the better. Treating others with greater respect is much needed and much welcomed. That being said, I have a bone to pick with the #MeToo movement.
By all means, let there be days of reckoning for the guilty. Let the perpetrators be unmasked and receive their just desserts. But if the movement stops there — only bringing to light more misdeeds by more perpetrators — then it is only treating the symptoms of a societal problem and not its causes. The real culprit here is the mindset that fuels the impulses, rationalizations, and self-justifications that trigger such misconduct.
Can anyone deny that American society has become increasingly preoccupied and saturated with increasingly lurid and demeaning concepts of sex over the past 50 to 60 years? This isn’t to say that intense interest in sex arose with the baby-boomer generation; powerful sexual desires are as old as the human race. But the Playboy philosophy that emerged in the 1950s and the sexual revolution that exploded in the ’60s and ’70s magnified and amplified those natural instincts, exalting sex and sexual “liberation” and indulgence as the mark of a “hip” modern man or woman.
A year ago this month, just before the #MeToo movement rose to prominence, Hugh Hefner, the founder of the Playboy empire passed away. I have no personal animus against Hefner, but as long as the peccadilloes of living men are being discussed openly, why not take a look at a deceased individual who played a key role in glamorizing sex-without-commitment promiscuity?
How was Hefner different from a pimp? No, he didn’t ply his wares on street corners, but he still paid women to disrobe for the titillation of males who were willing to pay. And how would you characterize his flagship publication, if not as pornography? (You might say “high-class porn,” but pairing “high-class” with “porn” seems like an oxymoron, so perhaps a more accurate description of Playboy is that it is porn with more polish than some of the cruder versions thereof.)
Let me emphasize that I’m not alleging that Hefner singlehandedly debased human sexuality in American culture. He was a figurehead for a vast number of people in our society who were seduced into believing that sex is a toy that takes one to the pinnacle of happiness when, in fact, sexual hyperactivity has destroyed families and brought pain to millions of devastated American children who have wondered why Mom and Dad didn’t stay together.
Besides ignoring Hefner and fellow pornographers’ role in eroding standards of sexual self-control, the #MeToo movement also has given Hollywood a pass. The movie industry has played a huge part in the exaltation of sex over love. Scenes that were left to the imagination as recently as the early 1960s have became increasingly explicit in the years since. The constant bombardment of the senses with vivid scenes of sexual passion inflamed those passions in others.
Indeed, the #MeToo movement lost a golden opportunity at last spring’s Oscar ceremony. There, a famous actress used her time on national TV to call for more offenders to be brought to account. That was fine, as far as it went. However, she blew a golden opportunity to address Hollywood’s culpability in fanning the flames of sexual desire. Hollywood has contributed heavily to generating a cultural miasma in which morally weak individuals abandon self-restraint and instead commit sexual depredations against others.
As the book of Proverbs warns, “Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” (Prov. 6:27) Hollywood films have ignited a lot of fires of desire over the years with graphic and mesmerizing depictions of sex as no-strings-attached thrills, best enjoyed with someone other than one’s spouse. For Hollywood figures to denounce those who are consumed by those fires, without accepting any responsibility for its role in pouring fuel on those fires is shortsighted, if not hypocritical.
The #MeToo movement is propelling needed change. The next step in its development should be for its spokespersons to courageously challenge the social acceptability of exalting sexual gratification above healthy relationships and time-tested moral norms. It’s time for them to address the roots of this cultural and social scourge.
Serena Williams, Umpire Abuse, and American Culture
If you follow sports at all, you know that Serena Williams erupted into a rage and verbal nastiness during her U.S. Open tennis finals match on Sept. 8. Williams, arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time, called the match umpire a “thief” among other unflattering characterizations that were heard by millions of spectators around the world.
In doing so, she not only embarrassed herself, shattered the dignity of her own sport, and marred the first Grand Slam victory by Japan’s talented and consummately gracious Naomi Osaka, but she shined a spotlight on a couple of deep-seated problems in American society.
Williams’ strong verbal attack against the umpire was symptomatic of the declining respect for authority, as well as the declining respect for others that has become endemic in contemporary America. Please understand, I am not blaming Williams for these problems. She isn’t the cause of these problems, but merely a prominent symbol of them.
Frankly, professional tennis tournament officials and governing boards have only themselves to blame for allowing a “gentlemen’s [and ladies’] sport” to degenerate into verbal hooliganism. Indeed, Williams is a much more restrained version of the volcanic John McEnroe, whose emotional immaturity and verbal pyrotechnics 30 to 40 years ago paved the way for this latest verbal explosion.
Even in baseball — historically a much less genteel sport than tennis — players who verbally abuse an umpire are ejected from the game.
Ejection is more problematical for tennis, since removal of one player ends the match, but here is how professional tennis could do it: Make a rule that verbal abuse of anyone on the court brings automatic disqualification; give the offending player’s share of the prize money to the paid ticketholders in attendance to compensate them for their contracted tennis match being truncated; stipulate that three such instances result in a permanent ban from professional tennis.
Do this, and the problem would greatly diminish. It’s simple economics: Raise the cost of misbehavior to the point where such behavior becomes nearly unthinkable.
One of the consequences of Williams’ verbal assault on the umpire is the message it sends to children: If you disagree with an official strongly enough, then it is permissible to berate and yell at the official. The token fine levied against Williams a day or two after the tournament will in no way erase the vivid mental images of her conduct. You can bet on younger athletes mimicking that behavior by bad-mouthing officials in their respective sports.
Verbally abusing officials isn’t harmless. In addition to whatever stress it imposes on the target, it discourages people from helping out communities and schools by serving as sports officials. Indeed, there already are many communities in the United States that are having a hard time finding anyone willing to officiate sports, or to work as volunteer coaches for children.
Many Americans now shy away from officiating because angry parents are so quick to verbally abuse and harass any official who makes a call against little Johnny’s team. Others decline to volunteer as coaches because some self-righteous parents who believe that their child is entitled to start or play an important position routinely bash coaches who don’t assess the team’s needs in the same way.
In short, the American proclivity to engage in verbal abuse already has hurt our children, by causing many adults with some talent for sports to shy away from youth sports involvements because it has become so unpleasant.
The problem isn’t confined to sports. Think of all the verbal abuse that has been heaped upon police since the “cops are pigs” countercultural meme gained traction in the turbulent 1960s. It persists today (see Colin Kaepernick, about whom I will write next). The impact? According to a recent report in The Christian Science Monitor, small towns in America are having great difficulty in finding anyone willing to go into police work.
I know none of us loves the cop who “picks” on us when we are speeding, but do we really want to create a social atmosphere in which nobody is willing to perform this vital, difficult, and under-appreciated work because their fellow citizens routinely denounce and condemn police officers?
We Americans have become entirely too quick to become verbally abusive of others. Sadly, today’s toxic political polarization aggravates that tendency, although it seems to me that politics didn’t make us mean, but instead, our reduced respect for authority and the verbal meanness that accompanies that disrespect has infected political discourse. (Examples abound, with the one freshest in my mind being the goons who staged the ugly interruptions of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the hallowed chambers of the U.S. Senate.)
Now that I’ve mentioned the political realm, I think partisans on both sides of the political divide know of good people who have rebuffed attempts to get them to run for public office because they don’t want to endure having their families subjected to the harsh and increasingly vicious verbal abuses to which political candidates are often subjected.
Sadly, I have no hope that verbal attacks against political officeholders and office seekers will lessen any time soon. But can we please make an effort to muzzle ourselves and refrain from verbally trashing sports officials and coaches, and from demonizing the police? We need good people in those positions, but every time we abuse people in those positions, we drive good people away from where their talents could bless our society.
That’s why Williams’ outburst was so harmful. We have to stop behaving like this, for the sake of both our children and our communities.
Heroes, Sacrifice, Collusion, Capitalism, and the Nike-Kaepernick Ad Campaign
Colin Kaepernick, the currently unemployed NFL quarterback most famous for kneeling during the U.S. national anthem, has hit the jackpot. Nike Inc. has unveiled Kaepernick as a featured face in their new ad campaign. While the terms of the contract haven’t yet been released, Nike pays megabucks to the athletes in its ads.
Let’s examine Nike’s decision. First, though, full disclosure: I have never had any monetary relationship with Nike, not even as a consumer. (Why pay several dollars more for a product just because it has a little swoosh on it?) However, I have respected and defended Nike against ignorant attacks against its Third World factories. Nike’s sweatshops have done far more than most, if not all, nonprofits to lift people out of dreadful poverty.
That having been said, Nike’s new ad campaign disappoints me. With so many well-liked great athletes, male and female, in our country, why did Nike choose an athlete as widely disliked as Kaepernick to represent them? The answer: Nike made a cold, calculating, cynical decision. American society is divided and polarized. Nike, of course, didn’t cause the polarization; they simply have made their peace with it, and decided to exploit it to the hilt to maximize profits. This is capitalism without conscience in action.
As one commentator shrewdly observed in Business Insider, old white guys aren’t Nike’s target market. Nike correctly calculated that my demographic would howl in protest about the selection of Kaepernick, generating tons of free publicity. Nike also calculated that younger Americans — Nike’s target demographic — would embrace Kaepernick as a symbol of youthful defiance and liberation from the (supposedly) outdated values of their stodgy elders. Defiant rebelliousness is sexy, and that is what Nike is marketing with Kaepernick.
Another aspect of the generation gap that Nike is exploiting is that the American concept of “hero” has changed. In bygone decades, corporations would choose someone universally recognized as a hero to be their public face. Up until the mid- or late-60s, right and wrong were clear-cut and unambiguous. Heroes were the good guys, whether the Lone Rangers, Ozzie Nelsons, and Ward Cleavers of popular entertainment, or the Sgt. Yorks, Lou Gehrigs, and John Glenns of real life.
By the 1970s, though, the era of the anti-hero had dawned. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were thieves, but Hollywood portrayed them as charming and likable. For decades now, popular entertainment and culture have pushed the envelope of decency and morality, gradually eroding the old standards. It has been trendy to mock the “straight and narrow way” as uncool; to depict life as steeped in shades of ethical grayness. The bar is lower for what it takes to be a hero. Voilà, the rise of hero/villains such as Kaepernick.
For me, the disappointment in Nike’s choice of poster boy is compounded by the glib superficiality of the ad campaign’s message. The notion that Kaepernick has been “sacrificing everything” is shamefully dishonest. Whoever wrote and adopted that phrase should spend a couple of hours in Arlington National Cemetery to learn what “sacrificing everything” really means.
What exactly has Kaepernick sacrificed? Certainly not fame and fortune. What about his professional football career? Kaepernick has not “sacrificed” it, but squandered it. He has accused NFL owners of colluding to blackball him from the NFL. This is a dubious assertion. Kaepernick’s hasn’t been sidelined because he knelt during the national anthem. Lots of NFL players have done this repeatedly, yet they continue to play.
He derailed and perhaps permanently forfeited his football career by doing outrageous things such as being photographed wearing “police are pigs” socks. (Can progressives who salute Kaepernick honestly say that you would clamor for the reinstatement of a player who had been as derogatory and condemnatory toward a racial minority as Kaepernick has been to police? Why the exception for that brand of despicable bigotry?)
Put yourself in the shoes of an NFL team owner for a moment. Mindful of the values of your fans and that a significant chunk of them already have boycotted NFL football, you wouldn’t dare to sign a player who has figuratively spat upon our country’s police officers. Besides costing you many fans/customers, the addition of this radioactive player to any NFL locker room would cause intolerable distractions. There is no collusion. Every NFL owner can plainly see the perils of hiring Kaepernick.
One last point about Nike’s choice of Kaepernick: Besides lowering the bar for what constitutes a hero and grossly devaluing the meaning of “sacrificing everything,” the perennial Nike motto “Just do it” seems feeble. In the present context, “just do it” seems to exalt the kind of casual carelessness that Kaepernick has manifested: Don’t pause to consider the ramifications of your actions; just follow your impulses. Frankly, that is a terrible message to convey to young people. We should encourage them to be more thoughtful, not less, about their actions.
As for Kaepernick himself, I haven’t written him off yet. We all make mistakes, especially when we are young and immature. It is possible that as he matures, Kaepernick will see that while he had legitimate concerns, his actions were hurtful, unfair, ineffective, and counterproductive. You don’t promote justice with injustice. You don’t disarm prejudice with prejudice. You don’t build bridges by burning bridges.
The big question about Kaepernick going forward is whether he has room in his heart to let love displace anger, and room in his mind for reason to supplant unthinking reactiveness. Will he allow the gall of bitterness to harden him into yet another pathetic hate-America leftist? Or will he awaken to the fact that the United States, despite not yet having completely fulfilled our noble ideals, is still a great country where more has been done for more people than virtually anyplace else on Earth, and where we can accomplish so much more if we work together, in mutual respect?
I hope he can come back from the dark side, although Nike is paying him a ton to be an anti-establishment icon. Good luck, young man.
An Open Letter to the Players of the National Football League
Many of you give generously of your time and money to various community activities. You also deeply desire to help our country live up to our lofty ideals of peace, justice, and opportunity. Thank you for your efforts and for caring.
The decision that some of you have made to kneel during the playing of our national anthem has sown confusion, in addition to controversy. The following remarks are an attempt to bring clarity to several important aspects of this issue.
First: Constitutional Rights — If the National Football League (NFL) or a team owner requires you to stand for the anthem, this isn’t a violation of your constitutional right to free speech. Our precious First Amendment stipulates: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .” Since it isn’t Congress that is requiring you to stand during the anthem, the First Amendment doesn’t apply here.
Second: Owners’ Rights and Employees’ Obligations — The NFL and the team owners — private employers — are the ones requiring that you, their employees, stand for the anthem. There is no constitutional right to have a job where the employer must provide a public platform for employees to express their personal grievances. On the contrary, employers have a right to establish guidelines for what is permissible behavior during working hours.
The requirement that you stand for the national anthem is no different than the board of trustees of my college insisting that we professors wear silly caps and gowns, march in an orderly procession, and remain seated during official ceremonies such as convocation and commencement.
Third: Uniforms and Uniformity — The purpose of a uniform is to outwardly manifest uniformity — the merging of individuality into one common purpose. When some players kneel and others stand, the appearance of uniformity is gone, it looks sloppy, and you don’t look like a team.
Obviously, the 46 players dressed for your team on game day don’t all share the same beliefs, perceptions, and priorities in their private lives, but why call attention to that right before kickoff? That is a crucial time when all teammates should be of one mind.
Your teammates who stand may respect your desire to protest, but I’m sure it makes some of them inwardly sad when you won’t stand for the national anthem.
Fourth: Some Practical Considerations — Who decides which issue(s) of the many possible choices are to be protested? What if a born-again Christian on your team wants to protest abortion? What if one of them took my economics course and wanted to protest the cruel injustice of burdening our country’s youth with tens of trillions of dollars of debt and obligations? And how can you tell when protests are no longer needed?
There is a basic problem here: If we use the national anthem as an occasion to protest because something isn’t right yet, the protests will never end, because there will always be problems in a society comprised of imperfect human beings.
Fifth: Counterproductive Results — Do anthem protests help or hurt your cause? Look at last year’s attendance figures and TV ratings. Your anthem protests have caused many Americans who would be naturally inclined to support your campaign for justice to permanently tune out you, the NFL, and your social messages.
Those you have alienated include:
1. Those veterans (many, but not all) who, while supporting your right to protest on your own time, deeply resent you kneeling when the flag that some of their friends died for is being honored by the playing of the national anthem;
2. Many police officers and their friends and families who resent being portrayed as animals because some of their colleagues committed wrongs;
3. Some moms, upset that their kids started fighting before a pee-wee football game when some of the boys mimicked you by kneeling during the anthem, who have now banned watching NFL football games in their homes;
4. Those fans whose greatest joy in the week used to be going to a football game to forget about personal and social problems for a few hours, when fans of all political persuasions could stand or sit side-by-side in friendly fellowship, united in support of their favorite team.
A football game was one of our last refuges — a refreshing oasis — from the political polarization that has seeped into so many areas of our lives. The anthem protests have deprived people of that oasis, and some have turned their backs on you as a result. Depriving innocent people of joy does nothing to bring more justice to our society.
Sixth: Your Right of Conscience — The NFL’s anthem policy this year (clearly unenforced) allows players to remain in the locker room if they can’t in good conscience stand for the anthem. They didn’t have to do this.
The 1940 Supreme Court decision Minersville School District v. Gobitis exempted those with certain religious convictions from having to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. It didn’t provide an exemption for people who were upset about something, but the NFL owners, out of respect for your conscience, magnanimously provided an “out” for those who would resent having to stand for the anthem.
Seventh: Your Aim — Although most of you don’t mean it this way, it looks to many like you are protesting the flag — the symbol of our ideals — when your real complaint is with the failure of certain individuals to live up to those ideals. The Stars and Stripes isn’t responsible for individual shortcomings and wrongs, so why make the flag look like a target?
Eighth: The Matter of Timing — As football players, you all understand how crucial timing is to the success of a play. Timing is just as important when it comes to addressing problems. By choosing the playing of the national anthem as a time of protest, you have achieved the counterproductive result of upsetting fans who otherwise would be receptive to your message.
The book of Ecclesiastes tells us: “To every thing there is a season” (Eccl. 3:1). Couldn’t that mean today that there is a time for gratitude, a time for protest, a time for football, and a time to work for a better America?
Ninth: Is the Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full? — You have legitimate concerns about very real problems. Our country has never yet completely lived up to our lofty and noble ideals, and we need to keep working on it. But there is more freedom and prosperity here than most people in the world’s history have even dreamed of.
Most importantly, there is something of paramount importance that unites all of us Americans: While we have not yet come close to solving all our country’s problems, we are blessed to have the freedom to work toward our worthy goals.
That is what our veterans fought and died for. That is what Old Glory symbolizes. So when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played, can’t we stand together in gratitude for the freedom we all have to make a difference? Can’t we celebrate the positive, can-do spirit that has always made America great?
Wishing all of you an injury-free season and progress in your careers. *
Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from Forbes.com and Conservative Review.com, and Visionandvalues.org, a publication of Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.
Can Congress Fix Healthcare?
I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance as Republicans in Congress thrash about trying to find a politically acceptable way to (allegedly) “fix healthcare”; to find a viable way to reform the federal government’s role in healthcare. Looking back over the past 52 years, the lesson to be learned is that Uncle Sam can’t fix healthcare, but can disrupt it, cripple it, make it ever more expensive, and redistribute who has access to it when they most need it.
To me, the very notion that the federal government should be involved in healthcare or healthcare insurance is preposterous (as well as not authorized by the Constitution). If it were up to me, Congress wouldn’t be debating how to tweak federal involvement, but to abolish it. Before you ask, yes, I would be willing to forego every penny that the government has taxed me for Medicare (yet another broke federal program) over the past forty-some years if only we could get the government out of that most private of spheres, namely, our health.
Obviously, that isn’t going to happen. The question then becomes: Can Republicans in Congress agree on how to undo some of the damage already done by prior federal interventions, most egregiously, the Affordable Care Act? The difficulty was encapsulated in a headline some weeks ago in The Wall Street Journal. It asked whether Republican proposals would be producing (or be perceived as producing) more winners or losers. Once the notion is accepted that the government should help citizens provide for their healthcare needs, any proposal that would reduce (perceived) benefits already granted will be seen, with some justification, as an injustice. What is “fair” about a government helping some but hurting others in their decisions about who gets what? Lots of luck getting that to fly.
There is another problem with trying to scale back government involvement layer by layer. It’s a little bit like trying to ease into a pool of icy water inch by inch. Each small step causes so much discomfort that the project is abandoned. The only way to do it is to dive in headfirst and take all the pain at once. Any attempts by Republicans to roll back, much less dismantle, the gargantuan federal network of bureaucracies and regulations impacting healthcare runs the risk of a backlash that would return control of Congress to the opposition.
Frankly, given the dynamics of democratic (small “d”) politics, it seems most likely to me that, regardless of short-term hard-fought victories in the attempt to scale back the federal government’s involvement in healthcare, the outcome will be the systemic collapse of an overburdened, over-regulated, bankrupt healthcare system. Democrats, of course, are completely united in opposition to any and all attempts to shrink the federal footprint in healthcare. I outlined their strategy nearly a decade ago. Their goal is to centralize control over key parts — the “commanding heights” — of our economy in Washington. That objective is accomplished by precipitating a crisis or collapse that causes scared Americans to plead for the government to rescue them from the government-manufactured chaos. All they have to do is wait until scared Americans call for a paternalistic government to take care of them.
Despite my pessimistic long-term outlook, I hope Congress is able to start removing bricks from the federal healthcare wall that has been erected over the decades. It will be interesting to see if the GOP can agree on which bricks and how many to remove this year. How tragic (yet politically understandable, given the different dynamics of the voters in different congressional districts) it may be if all Republicans want are some incremental improvements (i.e., rollbacks of different harmful policies currently in place) but we end up stuck in the horrible status quo because they won’t agree on which incremental rollbacks to make. To use the exceedingly platitudinous metaphor, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” nor can it be dismantled in a day. Will Republicans even get started on the formidable task facing them?
Stay tuned; we’ll find out soon.
Low Unemployment Is Not Economically Dangerous
The June 5 issue of The Wall Street Journal included an article entitled “Other Times Unemployment Has Been This Low, It Didn’t End Well.” It raised the question as to whether we should begin to worry that we are on the threshold of a painful economic comeuppance now that the headline May unemployment rate has fallen to only 4.3 percent. The short answer: Not at all. That isn’t to say that there is no possibility of a serious economic downturn, but if such unpleasantness arises, it won’t be because of a low unemployment rate.
The question occurred to the writer, Josh Zumbrun, because the only three times in the past five decades when official unemployment was this low were followed by “serious economic trouble.” Specifically:
“Low unemployment of the late 1960s preceded an inflation spiral in the 1970s. The late 1990s bred the Dot-com bubble and bust. The mid-2000s saw the buildup and collapse of U.S. housing.”
Let’s identify the causes of those jarring economic episodes. A proper diagnosis can help us avoid quack remedies.
The seeds of the inflationary spiral of the 1970s were sown by Lyndon Johnson’s “guns and butter” policy — i.e., increasing federal spending to wage a war on poverty and a military war in Vietnam concurrently — thereby undermining confidence in the dollar. Eventually, LBJ’s successor, Richard Nixon, who continued LBJ’s excessive spending, felt compelled to take the dollar off the gold standard, thereby unleashing the inflationary whirlwind of dollar depreciation that plagued the 1970s.
The dot.com bubble was the culmination of the giddy 1990s. Communism had collapsed, welfare reform was putting people back to work, creating more wealth, new technologies and businesses were emerging, and economic growth was vibrant in many foreign countries. Optimism reined. Most significantly in regard to the bubble, the financial powers that be — the Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan, the U.S. Treasury, and the International Monetary Fund — intervened in financial markets every time a potentially unsettling event was brewing. There were bailouts of Mexico, South Korea, Russia, and Brazil. Intervention contained the potential fallout from Long Term Capital Management’s catastrophic losses. Investors believed they were insulated from bear markets by the notorious “Greenspan put.” However, the bear always gets his turn and all bubbles eventually burst, but the cause of the spectacular dot.com crash was not low unemployment, but massive financial intervention.
The housing bubble of the 2000s was a direct result of the ill-conceived bipartisan policy of government planners trying to increase the percentage of Americans who owned their own homes. Regulators at the Fed and Housing and Urban Development leaned on financial institutions to weaken, if not ignore, prudent credit standards; furthermore the Fed held interest rates low for so long that people were given adjustable-rate mortgages for high-priced houses that they could afford only as long as interest rates remained suppressed. And amateur home “flippers” took on leverage that eventually caught up with them.
The article depicted those economic shocks superimposed on a timeline showing low unemployment immediately preceding them. To the credit of Mr. Zumbrun, or his editors, the graph bore the heading “Omen or Coincidence?” — thereby allowing for the truth that concurrence alone does not establish causation. The fact is, as we have seen, that the three economic shocks preceded by a low unemployment rate had causes other than low unemployment. What, then, is the source of the speculative notion that low unemployment might have the power to cause economic upheaval?
Here we encounter the ghost of the Phillips Curve. Zumbrun writes, “Economic theory draws clear linkages between low unemployment and inflation.” The sentence is technically correct. Economist A. W. Phillips hypothesized such a linkage in 1958, and the eponymous “curve” became part of Keynesian orthodoxy. However, a more accurate wording by Zumbrum would have been, “Defunct economic theory.” The painful “stagflation” episode of the 1970s exploded the Phillips Curve dogma.
It’s well past time to give the Phillips curve a decent burial and move on from the silly notion that low unemployment is bad for a society’s economic health. Workers of America, relax! You’re innocent — inflation and bubbles aren’t your fault.
1967 and “The Summer of Love”: A Half-Century Later
For the baby-boomer generation (or at least the counterculture segment within it) the summer of 1967 became known as “The Summer of Love.”
Actually, most of us boomers never experienced it. Certainly, 1967 wasn’t a blissful, carefree summer of love for the hundreds of thousands of Americans serving in Vietnam.
It didn’t feel much like love in my hometown of Detroit either. Fifty years ago this week, on July 23, 1967 (a Sunday, as it is this year), deadly riots erupted in the Motor City. They lasted through Friday, July 28, when, with help from the National Guard (including Detroit Tigers’ second baseman Dick McAuliffe), the mayhem expired. During that week, my friend Rick was scheduled to lay down some violin tracks at a music studio downtown. His dad asked me to accompany them to the inner city. When we knocked on the door of the studio, an unsmiling middle-aged African-American man looked at three nervous white guys and drily told us that they weren’t going to set anyone on fire that evening.
The actual Summer of Love took place in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. It had become a spontaneous hedonistic Mecca for 100,000 hippies. A “summer of drugs, sex, and rock’n’roll” would have been a more accurate description. Showing the proverbial power of the pen, writers managed to glamorize and mythologize a prolonged session of debauched self-indulgence. They portrayed hormonally charged young people taking the path of least resistance and luxuriating in sensual pleasures as something supposedly idealistic—loftier and nobler than the war in Vietnam and the economic struggle for the supposedly “almighty” dollar. The counterculture embraced the Summer of Love as its nirvana.
Whatever thrills the hippies at Haight-Ashbury might have had then, the legacy of the summer of ’67 is far from glorious. Drugs, sex, and rock’n’roll is hardly a formula for generational excellence. Think of “the greatest generation” that found the inner strength and character to prevail in the existential conflict of World War II: Would they have achieved such heroic heights had their priorities been to tune out the world and pursue ease and pleasure? Not a chance.
The Summer of Love romanticized unromantic sexual liaisons. Casual sex “liberated” men and women from commitment. It turned the life-affirming act of procreation into a life-cheapening pastime of recreation.
I’m sure many baby-boomers smile at the recollection of youthful flings in those days, but there was a dark side to unleashing the human libido. Millions of American families have fractured as a result of a man’s, or woman’s, addiction to the intense but transitory thrills of sexual pursuits. In doing so, they have inflicted incalculable emotional damage on millions of innocent children. Millions more children were never even born, because baby-boomers didn’t want their pleasure-seeking lifestyles to be hampered by such weighty responsibilities.
Drugs? The tragedy of lives blunted and sometimes prematurely ended by drug usage has grown since the Summer of Love. You can supply your own statistics, anecdotes, and headlines. For me, the bottom-line issue is: How did our society get so spiritually anemic that millions of our compatriots still fall for the wicked illusion that happiness can be bought, then ingested, inhaled, or injected?
Rock’n’roll? Here I’m ambivalent. 1967 was a fertile year for exciting, creative music — ranging from the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s” album to the beguiling West Coast sound of The Doors and Jefferson Airplane. The music was great, but it often wasn’t innocent. The Doors evoked oedipal imagery. My wife loved the Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” not realizing until I explained to her in the ’80s that it was a drug song. The Grass Roots’ captured the essence of the Summer of Love with their paean to immaturity and irresponsibility, Let’s Live For Today:
“By chasing after money
And dreams that can’t come true
I’m glad that we are different
We’ve better things to do
May others plan their future
I’m busy loving you. . . ”
The bottom line on the rock’n’roll aspect of the Summer of Love: Sonically enchanting tunes conveyed distinctly countercultural messages into many pliable minds.
If you are old enough to remember the Summer of Love, I hope you emerged unscathed and have happy memories of it. If you are younger, you didn’t miss anything except some fantastic music, and you didn’t really miss that, because it’s available today. As for real genuine love — not the hollow Summer of Love counterfeit — it dwells within you (see Luke 17:21). *
Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from Forbes.com and Conservative Review.com, and Visionandvalues.org, a publication of Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.
President Trump’s Schizophrenic Tax Proposals
To state a banal truism: Politics is about misdirection, give and take, and compromise. That idea should be held in thought when analyzing President Trump’s recent tax proposals.
Within the span of a few days, Trump requested both a tax hike and tax cuts. The tax hike is the proposed tariff (i.e., tax) on the importation of softwood products from Canada. The tax-cut proposal is for lower tax rates on both personal and corporate income, and a simplification of these tax codes.
This ambivalent approach to taxes — raising some while cutting others — may strike one as schizophrenic (not, I should emphasize, that the president is schizo, but that the policy proposals seem bipolar due to having opposite intents). Personally, I oppose the tax hike and favor the cuts, but in Trump’s seemingly conflicting proposals, I see political cunning and pragmatism.
Part of Trump’s political base consists of the populists and nationalists who view with suspicion, if not animosity, any business that provides Americans with the lower-priced goods that we want if that business happens to be from another country and competes with American businesses. These Americans like tariffs, even though the economic reality is that the tax is actually paid by American consumers, not by the foreign suppliers.
Conservatives and people in general who would rather keep more of their income than send it to the insatiable money pit in Washington will, of course, be favorably inclined toward Trump’s proposal for lower income taxes.
Thus, Trump’s raise-taxes-here-and-cut-taxes-there strategy contains elements appealing to a broad swath of the American electorate — a politically astute tactic. And what would be the overall net change in the tax burden on Americans? The proposed 20 percent tariff on approximately $5 billion per year of Canadian softwood imports (a tax that has some procedural hurdles to clear before it takes effect) amounts to a tax of approximately $1 billion per year on American homebuyers, many of whom are of modest incomes. (A pundit’s flamboyant headline could read, “Trump raises taxes on middle class.”) By contrast, the proposed tax cuts on personal and corporate income (which faces the larger hurdle of having to get through Congress) would reduce the taxes paid by Americans as much as $100 billion per year. Viewed that way, Trump’s proposed tax cuts are a hundred times as large as his proposed tax hikes. I can live with that tradeoff!
There are many specific aspects of Trump’s tax-cut proposal that merit comment, but I’ll single out two.
First, many residents of states with high personal income taxes will plead with their congressional representatives to preserve the deduction of their state income tax from their federal adjusted gross income. That deduction is a subsidy, a privilege. It is a stealthy transfer of wealth from taxpayers in no-tax and low-tax states to taxpayers in high-tax states. It’s time to end that unfairness. Politically, the high-tax states tend to be liberal — California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey — and they generally vote Democratic, so Trump wouldn’t alienate his political base by removing the deduction. And since those high-tax states are progressive, that is, they are politically dominated by people who believe that taxes should be higher than they are, why should they complain if Trump gives them what they want? Let them reap what they sow.
Second, I’ve just re-watched the brilliant PBS documentary “The Commanding Heights” — essentially an economic history of the 20th century — that makes it abundantly clear that major economic reform often fails when undertaken with a gradualist approach. The countries that have most successfully transitioned from stagnant statist controls to vibrant economic growth have been those that adopted the approach of “shock therapy” — that is, jump in headfirst and take the pain in one fell swoop. That is the approach that President Trump should take with the corporate income tax — just abolish it. Already, special interests are arguing about whether to preserve deductions for interest payments (a quirk in our tax code that perversely incentivizes debt) or how fast to allow depreciation. If the tax rate were zero, these contentious points would be moot and simply evaporate. The economic reality is that corporations, being fictitious persons, don’t really pay taxes; only individuals do. Even the OECD, factions of which deplore business tax competition between countries, acknowledges that the corporate tax is absolutely the worst, the most distorting and economically irrational tax out there. Trump’s proposal to greatly reduce the tax rate is an economically brilliant idea, but to temporize with such a stupid tax leaves the door open to future mischief in tweaking the code to placate special interests. Just deep-six the corporate income tax monstrosity and be done with it. Doing so would soon make the U.S. the preferred location for international business and lead to a huge explosion of jobs in our country.
Despite its imperfections, Trump’s tax-cut plan is a huge improvement over the status quo. It will be interesting to see if congressional Republicans can bury their differences and avoid letting the perfect be the enemy of the good and enact these tax cuts into law.
Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard: A Young Idealist Undercut the System That Has Blessed Him and Us
Facebook founder and multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg’s Commencement speech at Harvard drew lots of attention — especially his call for some sort of a federally funded guaranteed minimum income (a “universal basic income” or “UBI”) for all adult Americans. Overall, it was an above-average commencement address — warm-hearted, encouraging, humane, and filled with some endearing personal touches. The only negative was an all-too-common fuzzy, callow idealism about economic and political matters.
Zuckerberg has come to epitomize the wealthy, successful entrepreneur who seeks to atone for the “sin” of succeeding. Thus, he pandered and condescended when he declared:
“Let’s face it: There is something wrong with our system when I can leave here and make billions of dollars in 10 years, while millions of students can’t afford to pay off their loans, let alone start a business.”
Leaving aside the mistaken implicit assumption that millions of students have the gumption, ability, and desire to start their own businesses, how about some love for a system that allows a man to become a billionaire in return for having provided a service that tens of millions of people have found useful? Zuckerberg, like most other billionaires, has earned his fortune, and in no way should he be apologetic about it. As for students who have incurred more debt than they should have by overpaying for college courses that didn’t pay off in the job market, well, that’s a problem both of mispriced and overabundant higher education and imprudent decisions by those who voluntarily incurred all that debt.
Zuckerberg furthermore demeaned his fellow entrepreneurs by attributing success not only to “having a good idea or working hard,” but “by being lucky, too.” True, things often work out in seemingly miraculous ways, but isn’t it interesting how the “luck” of success seems to follow those who have good ideas and work hard?
Even worse, Zuckerberg seems to misunderstand the basic American concept of “freedom.” He resorted to cheap polemics when he said:
“. . . today, we have a level of wealth inequality that hurts everyone. When you don’t have the freedom to take your idea and turn it into a historic enterprise, we all lose.”
First, “wealth inequality” doesn’t hurt anyone; poverty, not inequality, does afflict a minority, and defeating poverty remains a worthy goal for Americans. Second, Americans do have the freedom to create new businesses and seek funding from a multiplicity of sources. True, they may not be starting with the advantages of wealth and connections, but that didn’t stop Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak from starting Apple in a garage.
What Zuckerberg wants is for everyone to be able to afford to putter around without having to worry about earning a paycheck to make ends meet. This is where Zuckerberg’s proposal for a UBI fits in. While I agree that there could be a relatively small number of individuals who might incubate successful businesses while receiving a guaranteed government allowance, I think Zuckerberg is dreaming when he implies that a large number of Americans would create successful businesses if only Uncle Sam would pay their basic living expenses.
The idea of a government-funded universal basic income has been around for a long time. Zuckerberg (whom some suspect of laying the groundwork for a run at high political office) views government giving every American adult X thousands per year as a logical next step beyond the New Deal and Great Society in the progressive tradition of paternalistic government. Indeed, one hears echoes of Bernie Sanders in Zuckerberg’s words; the former became popular by calling for free college education and health care; Zuckerberg upped the ante by advocating a free all-purpose allowance.
Interestingly, the idea of a universal basic income has long enjoyed support from some individuals at the conservative/libertarian end of the economic spectrum, such as the late Milton Friedman and the American Enterprise Institute’s Charles Murray. Those eminences advocate a guaranteed minimum income not because they believe it is morally desirable for government to redistribute wealth, but for reasons of expediency. They are like anti-drug libertarians who recommend the legalization of dangerous “recreational” drugs as the lesser of two evils. Murray, for example, despises the bloated bureaucracies that administer hundreds of ineffectual government so-called “antipoverty” programs and believes that a single government check to every American would be cheaper and less disruptive.
There isn’t space to debate that question here, but let us close by looking at the problems that might attend a guaranteed basic income.
First, while Murray calls for a UBI to replace all federal assistance programs, including Social Security and Medicare, Zuckerberg has remained silent about whether he wants to consolidate all federal assistance into one monthly check or simply add one more entitlement to those already existing. Since the present system of entitlements has put Uncle Sam $20 trillion in the hole, Zuckerberg could be proposing that our society hop on the fast train to bankruptcy.
Since Zuckerberg values equality, it is worth noting that a UBI would pay an equal amount to every American adult. On the revenue side, though, it would be wildly unequal with productive Americans footing the entire bill and unproductive Americans not paying a cent.
Politically, the UBI would be the most un-repealable entitlement ever. With only a minority of voters paying for it, the majority on the receiving end would not only never consent to relinquish the benefit, but they would be putty in the hands of every demagogic progressive politician who would assure voters that they deserve a larger monthly allowance.
Economically, a UBI would achieve the goal of the “living wage” movement. Indeed, as I’ve written elsewhere (google: Hendrickson Forbes minimum wage nonsense) the structure of wages provides essential economic information that incentivizes individuals to acquire additional skills. A UBI would allow young adults to remain in minimum wage jobs instead of moving up the economic ladder and making room for younger Americans to take low-skill jobs.
Socially, because of the split between those who would be net beneficiaries and the net losers, a UBI would be devastating. The glue that holds a society together is the social division of labor. We already have a problem of more than ten million healthy men in their prime years sponging off of parents and girlfriends, picking up some cash here and there, but essentially not working, and therefore consuming part of society’s wealth without making any contribution to the production of that wealth. A UBI would facilitate such lifestyle choices, leaving us with a society in which those who work bear the burden of those who choose not to work. If you have to ask, “What could possibly go wrong?” then you don’t know history, such as the ancient Greek mentality that only slaves work.
Spiritually, or at least psychologically for those of you uncomfortable with references to “spirit,” for grown men not to have to strive or face challenges is to leave their potential untapped, their character undeveloped, and their sense of fulfillment blighted. Two things I have observed in my lifetime: 1) human beings need to work; 2) easy lives are blunted lives.
In conclusion, I admire Mark Zuckerberg in many ways. I know he hopes to help others as he already has in some very tangible ways, but his undeveloped understanding of the beauty of a free market system has the potential to more than offset all the good he has accomplished.
Remembering Three Great Athletes (and the Way Sports Used To Be)
May was a poignant month for those of us who were avid Detroit sports fans in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Three of our heroes passed on within two weeks of each other: five-time All-NFL and Hall of Famer Yale Lary; his teammate, three-time All-NFL player Wayne Walker; and Detroit Tigers Hall-of-Famer Jim Bunning.
For those of you not familiar with their accomplishments, let me share a few with you, and weave into the narrative a few vignettes that show how different the world of professional sports was then.
Yale Lary played safety for the Lions for 11 years during the Alex Karras era when the Lions had the most dominant defense in the NFL. During his first two seasons, he played minor league baseball in the summer. Then his sports career was interrupted when he served two years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. During the latter part of his NFL career, when it was still common for players to hold off-season jobs in order to earn more income, he held office in the Texas state legislature. (After retiring, he went into private business instead of politics.)
On the field, Lary had 50 interceptions in his career (a figure that surely would have been higher if not for his military service) — enough to rank fifth all time at the time of his retirement. He also handled the punt and kick return duties. Younger football fans may not know that there weren’t always kicking specialists in the NFL. Lary, however, was good enough to be a punter in the NFL even today. Three times he led the NFL in punting and when he retired, his career average of 44.3 yards was second all-time. His hang time was so great that in one season the average return of his punts was a single yard. Lary played in nine Pro Bowls.
Wayne Walker led the Lions in scoring in three seasons and once was named the Lions’ defensive player of the year (no small feat when he shared the field with multiple Hall-of-Fame defenders). Walker played linebacker. So how did he lead the team in scoring? He also was the placekicker. Like Lary, Walker wore more than one hat for the Lions. Three times voted first-team All-NFL (what they call “All Pro” today), Walker’s teammates were shocked that he never was elected to the Hall of Fame.
U.S. Senator Jim Bunning, who attended Xavier University on a basketball scholarship and later became the only baseball Hall-of-Famer to serve in Congress, was a tall, slender, redheaded, right-handed pitcher. His accomplishments on the diamond were sterling: Over 100 victories and a no-hitter (one of them being one of 23 perfect games in MLB history) in each league; the American League’s starting pitcher in three All-Star games; retiring second only to the immortal Walter Johnson in career strikeouts.
Bunning was one of three starting pitchers who, in the absence of a reliable fourth starter and a decent bullpen, but with the help of sluggers Al Kaline, Rocky Colavito, and Norm Cash, kept the Tigers respectable at a time when the Yankees dominated the American League. The other two were Frank Lary (no relation to Yale Lary) and the cagey southpaw, Don Mossi.
Frank “Taters” Lary was the ace, known as “the Yankee killer,” since he was the only one to consistently tame the powerful Yankee bats of Mantle, Berra, and crew. Frank Lary was used frequently as a pinch runner. Can you imagine the Dodgers sending Clayton Kershaw out to run for somebody today? Not a chance. In the ’60s, even star players were expected to help their team any way they could; today, in the era of mega-contracts and specialization, such double-duty is inconceivable.
As for Don Mossi, I actually met him when I was a boy. My Pop knew George Kell, the Hall of Fame third-baseman who handled TV broadcasts for decades after his playing career, and George took us to the door of the Tigers’ clubhouse and went in to see who he could bring outside to greet us. The next thing I knew, there was Don Mossi, his jersey completely unbuttoned and exposing his undershirt, smoking a cigarette. How’s that for a sign of the times? Mossi was a friendly, gracious man, most famous for his unusual facial hair. I think he held the world’s record for heaviest beard. I’m sure that if he shaved at 7:00 a.m. he would have a 5 o’clock shadow by 8:00. I think he could have grown a short beard over a weekend. Amazing!
Major league sports has a great capacity to touch our lives and give us memories that last a lifetime. Yale Lary, Wayne Walker, and Jim Bunning were all in their 80s at the time of their passing last month. All three were solid citizens who led productive lives after the conclusion of their sports careers. Even though it has been decades since they starred for my hometown teams, I have vivid and happy memories of all three of them. Thank you, gentlemen. RIP. *
Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Value, and Forbes.com.
The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan Repeats Leftwing Propaganda about Capitalism
Peggy Noonan’s weekly column in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal was entitled, “Socialism Gets a Second Life.” It was about the rising popularity of Bernie Sanders, the self-avowed “democratic socialist,” and what explained his popularity among younger voters.
It all made sense until near the end of the article, where Noonan wrote: “Do you know what’s old if you’re 25? The free-market capitalist system that drove us into a ditch.”
Whoa, time out! What “free-market capitalist system” are you referring to, Ms. Noonan? You’ll get no argument from me about the “ditch” part. Indeed, we have suffered through a multi-year economic funk that has left many young Americans on the outside looking in. But to write that it was a “free-market capitalist system” that produced these justly lamented conditions is an egregious error.
Our current economic system is anything but “free-market capitalist.” Under the last two presidents, annual federal spending ballooned from $1.86 trillion in George W. Bush’s first year in office to $3.75 trillion in his last year — enough to raise the national debt from $5.7 trillion to $19 trillion today.
The housing and financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 resulted from political interference with free markets. (A few lowlights: the Federal Reserve held interest rates artificially low; the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and G. W. Bush used regulatory pressure to induce financial institutions to issue mortgages without verifying creditworthiness; Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac issued loads of risky mortgage-backed securities that went bad.)
Since then, we have not embraced freer markets, but instead have increased government intervention and made markets less free.
The unjust TARP bailout was followed by President Barack Obama’s non-stimulating “stimulus” federal borrowing and spending of additional hundreds of billions of dollars. The Fed essentially suspended the market prices — interest rates — that coordinate present with future production with its prolonged zero-interest rate policy. Key industries have been brought further under the control of the federal government — health care via Obamacare; energy via EPA throttling of coal, Interior Department resistance to drilling for oil on public lands, subsidies for green boondoggles, etc.; the financial industry by Dodd-Frank’s unaccountable Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; the home mortgage industry via the nationalization of Fannie and Freddie; the semi-nationalization of the college loan market.
Government regulation continues to increase and now costs Americans nearly $2 trillion per year. The highest taxes in the world on corporate profits drive some companies offshore and contribute to a pervasive anti-business climate that has brought us to the worrisome condition of businesses closing at a faster rate than they are opening, thereby reducing job opportunities. “Free markets”? Not even close.
It’s bad enough that progressives resort to Orwellian Newspeak — calling an economy bludgeoned and weakened by massive government intervention “free markets” — as a technique for unfairly discrediting markets and providing false rationalizations for more government control, but when The Wall Street Journal editorial crew lets them get away with it and, even worse, lends credibility to the lie, it’s no wonder that kids don’t know better than to latch on to Bernie Sanders’ utopian socialist nonsense. (Indeed, as TheBlaze recently reported, many Sanders supporters can’t begin to define socialism, but that’s no excuse for our side not defending free-market capitalism from mischaracterizations.)
We have an uphill challenge ahead of us, but we need to explain to young people that the economy has struggled because President Obama has repeatedly attacked markets and waged economic warfare against the middle class that would have made Karl Marx proud, and that electing Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton would be to partake of more of that economically poisonous brew. If it’s change that young people crave, then try free-market capitalism. That’s the approach we haven’t tried for too long a time.
Hillary, Guns, and a Divided America: Two Different Worldviews
Leigh Munsil, political editor of TheBlaze, reported over the weekend that Hillary Clinton played the gun control card while campaigning in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday.
Clinton’s pitch was oh-so-cleverly planned: She assured conservative Iowans that any actions on gun control would “certainly be done consistent with the Constitution and the rights of gun owners.” Then she scored points with liberals by slandering opponents of government gun control by shamelessly charging that “one of their highest priorities [is] lowering the age from 14 to let more children be able to legally have guns.”
As an added emotional touch, Clinton was accompanied by the sympathetic figure of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was tragically wounded in a 2011 shooting spree, and Giffords’ husband, Mike Kelly, who characterized opposition to gun control as a plot by a “powerful corporate lobby” (evil corporations being the left’s omnipresent bugaboo).
Let’s back off the emotional manipulation and political theater and try to take a sober look at the gun control issue. At his town hall meeting about guns last month, President Barack Obama stated that, when it comes to guns, “People occupy different realities.”
This doesn’t happen often, but I agree with the president 100 percent.
There does happen to be one gun-related point on which Republicans and Democrats are united: We all yearn for the end of murders and mass murders (whether by guns or other means). When it comes to gun ownership, though, we are divided by two fundamentally different worldviews.
Investor’s Business Daily recently published a survey that attempted to quantify the differences between Republicans and Democrats on the gun issue. Does increased gun ownership lead to more crime? More than two-thirds of Democrats think it does, while 80 percent of Republicans think that increased gun ownership actually reduces crime. Similarly, “72 percent of Democrats believe that stricter gun control laws would significantly cut crime [but] only 14 percent of Republicans” do.
These starkly divergent beliefs result from Americans differing politically about ideology, philosophically about idealism, and psychologically in terms of what we fixate upon.
In terms of political ideology, Democrats by and large are liberals and progressives who believe in the efficacy of government. To them, government is the great power, the benevolent force, the necessary agent for improving society. By contrast, most Republicans and conservatives share our Founding Fathers’ distrust of government power, as summarized in the 9th and 10th Amendments.
Knowing that there has been a perennial battle throughout human history between individual rights and liberty on the one hand and government power on the other, our Founders adopted the Bill of Rights, including specifically the right to bear arms, and then gave us the 9th and 10th Amendments as the capstone to their vision, making it clear that anywhere there was a doubt, the presumption was to be in favor of individual rights over government power.
In terms of idealism, the progressive worldview includes a quixotic quest for a risk-free world. Whether it’s suing somebody because they don’t think it’s fair that their own stupidity, mistakes, or poor judgment should result in any injury to themselves, or their desire for cradle-to-grave security in the form of Big Government taking care of their every need, the left believes that government can engineer a world in which injury and death can be minimized through government provision of a safe, risk-free world.
Conservatives, by contrast, reject such notions as impossibly unrealistic, understand that a government given too much power to “take care of us” is a threat to liberty, and recognize that the hazards of this world require us to remain mentally alert, adopt prudent precautions, and accept responsibility for our own welfare.
In terms of psychology, we have a classic divide between those who see the glass as half empty and half full. Republicans see the benefits of guns. Interestingly, in 2013 President Obama commissioned the Center for Disease Control to study the impact of guns in America, and the CDC’s findings were the opposite of what the anti-gun Obama was hoping for.
“Self-defense can be an important crime deterrent,” said the report.
Guns are an effective and often used crime deterrent. . . . Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was “used” by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.
The CDC study confirmed earlier studies estimating that guns deter criminal aggression anywhere from half a million to 3 million times per year — a huge number compared to fewer than 11,000-13,000 murders by firearms per year.
I’ve presented some arguments in defense of gun ownership in the past, but facts, data, and reason rarely change somebody’s mindset about guns. Americans are divided by ideology, idealism, and psychology, and that isn’t going to change.
Antonin Scalia, George Washington, the Constitution on Our Future
As those of us who still revere George Washington remember him on his birthday (the actual date — February 22 — not the wan counterpart known as Presidents’ Day). I am struck by a strong link between the recently departed Justice Antonin Scalia and the Father of our country. Both men did their utmost to preserve the integrity of our precious Constitution.
In his Farewell Address, which has been read in the U.S. Senate every year since 1896, he eloquently states that officials in each branch of the government — legislative, executive, and judicial — should
. . . confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding any exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another . . .
because such encroachments lead to “a real despotism.”
It was this type of encroachment that Justice Scalia lamented in his opinion last summer in the Obergefell decision that legalized homosexual marriage when he referred to the Supreme Court’s decision as a judicial putsch.
Contrary to what some progressives assert, Scalia’s attempt to honor and uphold the original intent of the Constitution was not designed to tie us to the past.
Scalia would concur with Washington (again, in the Farewell Address):
The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government.
. . . if, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.
Washington’s warning here is clear and his wisdom is timeless: Beware of cutting constitutional corners for the sake of expediency. Yes, an expanded, Constitution-busting exercise of power may indeed benefit you today, but the expansion of state power leads to a permanent diminution of liberty that will haunt you in the long run.
This vital point about constitutional integrity is either too subtle for the left to grasp, or they are so intoxicated by their zeal to get what they want that they either fail to believe that the expanded power of government will ever be used in a way of which they disapprove, or they are willing to roll the dice about the future in exchange for getting something they want today.
Indeed, here we see one of the fundamental differences between conservatives and libertarians on the right and progressives/liberals on the left: The left focuses on what they want, and the right (which includes Scalia and Washington) focuses on how. The difference is crucial.
Progressives are so convinced of the rightness of their positions, that they believe the end justifies the means. In their view, why should a document written in the 18th century get in the way of what progressive-thinking people in the 21st century want? To progressives like President Barack Obama, the Constitution is a nuisance to be swept aside. To constitutionalists, like Washington and Scalia, the Constitution is sacred and a protection.
The progressive philosophy that regards the constitution as a “living, breathing document” in practice makes our constitution a dead letter. If any branch of government can ignore, bypass, disobey, or nullify any constitutional stipulation today — even if the action is favored by millions of Americans — what is to keep government officials from ignoring, say, the First Amendment tomorrow?
Justice Scalia’s dissent in Obergefell last summer vividly warns us about how close we are to losing our rights and liberties to what Washington called “usurpation” of the constitutional order. From the point of view of Washington and Scalia, Obergefell sets an ominous precedent: It establishes the undemocratic, unconstitutional doctrine that vital points of law are being enacted, not by the people’s elected representatives in Congress, as the Constitution stipulates, but by as few as five unelected judges who have no compunctions about usurping the Constitution.
Whoever succeeds Justice Scalia, then, given the current 4-4 ideological split on the Court, may bear the awful burden of going down in history as the one who either put the nail in the coffin of our country’s original constitutional vision — that we are a nation of laws, not men, and with a limited government that cannot abrogate “unalienable” individual rights — or who will take the side of Scalia and Washington and slow our slide down the slippery slope to tyranny.
Republican senators will be subjected to enormous pressures to approve the person whom President Obama nominates. It is quite possible that some of them will lose bids for reelection if they don’t. The rest of us have to hope that those GOP senators understand that our entire constitutional order is at stake, and that they have the nobility of character and love of country that would lead them to put the Constitution ahead of their own personal career goals.
In addition to the fundamental issue of preserving some remnant of constitutional order, Sen. Rand Paul offers a second compelling reason for Republican senators not to approve an Obama appointee: In light of Obama’s arrogations of executive power that are constitutionally dubious, it would constitute what Sen. Paul called a “conflict of interest” — indeed, it would make a mockery of justice — to allow Obama to appoint the justice who likely would be the deciding vote in cases in which Obama essentially occupies the seat of the defendant (a point about which progressives are oblivious, and so, in their usual supercilious fashion, they are ridiculing Rand Paul. As stated before, the left wants what it wants, and it is not particularly concerned about constitutional integrity in its efforts to get it.)
Let us hope and pray that the wise and caring advice imparted by the George Washington in his Farewell Address goes to the heart of every U.S. senator this February 22. Antonin Scalia did an outstanding job of upholding Washington’s standards and the integrity of our Constitution. Whether his successor does the same or not will make a huge difference in the future direction of our Republic.
Financial Regulation and the Conceit of the Do-Gooders
Last week, Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (the incarnation of the Dodd-Frank law) made the news. He is leading a regulatory push to lower the price of payday loans.
The Wall Street Journal quoted him as saying:
I personally believe banks and credit unions can be low-cost providers of small-dollar loans. I think that . . . there would and should be an ability for them to offer decent products.
This statement is both sad and scary. It’s sad because of the economic ignorance it manifests. It’s scary because this economically ignorant man wields awesome powers, yet lacks the wisdom to use those powers helpfully, and he remains essentially unaccountable to anyone who just might have a better grasp of economic reality than he does.
We all are entitled to our opinions. And when he says, “I personally believe…” and “I think,” Mr. Cordray is making it plain that he is dwelling in the realm of opinion. In his opinion, (which, alas, carries more weight than yours and mine, due to the regulatory power he wields) financial institutions can afford to continue supplying small, short-term loans at lower prices than they currently charge. Apparently, he knows better what banks can do profitably than the banks themselves do. Cordray also injects a normative concern: Lenders “should” be able to offer “decent products” — implying that the products they offer now lack decency.
Let’s address the decency issue first.
What gives Mr. Cordray the right to arbitrarily decide what fees (interest rates, application fees, or whatever) are “decent”? He thinks lending institutions should charge less. What would he think if some government bureaucrat presumed to tell him the price at which he could sell his house or automobile? Cordray rightly would tell the bureaucrat to buzz off because he has a right to sell his own property for whatever he thinks it is worth and whatever someone else is willing to pay for it. In short, he would stand up for his property rights. It is no different for moneylenders. They decide what price to ask for the use of their property. It is a peculiar notion of justice that individuals should be free to charge what they want for their property rights, but businesses shouldn’t.
This brings us to the underlying economics. Nobody compels a person to take out a payday loan from a particular lender. If the would-be borrower thinks that a lender’s fees are too high, he or she is free to seek out more favorable terms from another lender. The fact that borrowers haven’t borrowed from another lender indicates that the borrowers weren’t able to find a better deal elsewhere; thus, they are getting the best deal available to them.
Mr. Cordray, of course, wishes that they could get cheaper loans.
Why doesn’t he start his own business and do what he thinks should be done himself? Ah, that’s right — he’s too busy saving the world from his lofty perch in Washington. But why don’t other lenders come along and offer lower interest rates on loans? After all, there are always enterprising individuals searching for ways to make a buck.
The economic fact of the matter is that if the current lenders were making large profits from the small-loan business, then some other lender or lenders would enter that market to get a piece of that juicy action. The fact that they don’t enter a market they are free to enter indicates that the current lenders are charging a market rate for their services — low enough to entice customers, high enough to make it worthwhile to the lender, but not so high as to attract lower-cost providers into the market. That is the way competitive markets work, Mr. Cordray.
Cordray apparently wants to impose a price ceiling on how much payday lenders can charge. If he crams prices below the market price, a shortage will develop. Demand for such loans will rise at the same time that the supply of such loans will diminish. That may prove beneficial in the short run for those individuals lucky enough to get the loan they need, but it could be devastating to those who can no longer get such loans. In fact, those unfortunate individuals will have no other choice but to turn to black markets to get the funds they desperately need. In those black markets, prices will not only be higher, but the consequences of failing to repay could be much grimmer (think broken kneecaps and other unpleasantness).
I will say one thing for Mr. Cordray: The ignorance and conceit that leads him to presume to lecture lenders on how to operate their businesses and to pass moral judgment on people whose businesses he really doesn’t understand are not his unique faults. The whole progressive movement is riddled with them.
In fact, Cordray’s conceit is at least matched, if not greatly exceeded, by Hillary Clinton. The Democratic presidential wannabe has proposed a plan to give federal regulators the power to “break up any financial institution that is too large and risky to be managed effectively.” That probably sounds reassuring to voters who shudder at the recollection of the financial panic of 2008, but stop and think for a minute: What makes Hillary wiser and more perceptive than the country’s financial experts? Where are the bright lines that will let her detect when a bank has gotten “too large” or “too risky”?
Does anyone seriously believe that Hillary Clinton (or any other politician) knows better than financial professionals with decades of experience how banks can be “managed effectively”? (Maybe that’s why major Wall Street firms pay her millions of dollars for an hour or two of her time — so she can give advice and solve their managerial problems for them. What do you think?)
No, the basic problem here is economic ignorance. Highly educated, intelligent people like Richard Cordray and Hillary Clinton may think they are smart enough to manage markets, but as the disastrous 20th-century experiments in political control of economic activity proved, there is no government in the world that can process essential economic information and coordinate economic activity with anywhere near the efficiency and effectiveness of free markets and the pricing mechanism. Hands off, do-gooders! Your blundering interventions will only make things worse, regardless of your intentions. *
Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Values.
Don't you love it when something heartwarming happens to you unexpectedly? That happened to me on October 1. My friend Ron invited me to go with him to Cleveland to see the game that night between the Indians and the Minnesota Twins. Neither of us had any connection to either of the teams (I'm a lifelong Tigers fan and Ron is a lifelong Pirates fan) but I had never seen Progressive (formerly Jacobs) Field before, so off we went.
From the moment we left the parking garage and walked a block to the ballpark, I felt comfortable. Usually, cities tense me up, but Cleveland had a small-town "vibe" - calm, safe, and peaceful. As we crossed the street to the stadium, we encountered a large statue of Larry Doby. That was a nostalgic moment for me. Doby was a Cleveland outfielder in the first major league baseball game I ever attended, way back in the 1950s at Briggs (later Tiger) Stadium in Detroit. For the benefit of younger readers who may not recognize his name, Doby is historically significant to major league baseball, because he was the first African-American to play in the American League, just as Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in the National League. A seven-time All-Star center fielder and Hall-of-Famer, Doby (along with teammate Satchel Paige) became the first African-American to be a World Series champion when the Indians won in 1954 after Doby led the league in home runs and RBIs.
Snapping out of my nostalgic reverie, my thoughts shifted from past to present as we approached the turnstiles. My first impression: Baseball near the shore of Lake Erie on an October night is a chilly proposition! The cool wind off the lake is impossible to ignore. I can't imagine what it would be like to play a World Series game there in November. Second impression: The people working at Progressive Field were as warm as the air was cold. I have never met people as uniformly friendly as the off-the-field team assembled by the Cleveland Baseball Club.
The security inspectors at the turnstiles were relaxed and affable. They treated us like welcomed guests instead of like cattle. The lady at the hamburger stand must have served thousands of other customers during the season, but she made me feel like I was her first-ever customer. She greeted me with a beaming smile, twinkling eyes, and overflowing kindness. The ushers, too, were helpful, courteous, and friendly. They took a personal interest in us rather than thinking of us as numbers in a crowd.
We had arrived early and soon went to escape the cold in the Terrace Club - an enclosed area - to wait there until the game started. We had already eaten and didn't need a table, so after checking out the Bob Feller exhibit in the waiting area, we were invited my the cheerful hostess to sit in a couple of comfortable chairs.
What happened next touched my heart. Out on the field, a young lady was ready to sing the national anthem. Ron and I rose, and then, almost to my surprise, every single person who was sitting in the restaurant area in front of us, also rose and doffed their caps. They could have stayed seated, being physically removed from the stadium seats by privacy glass, but they didn't. God bless the people of Cleveland! They are true patriots.
For me, the good people we encountered that night at Progressive Field helped forge a bond with the city where my late mom grew up - a great American city with some of the friendliest people I have ever met. For you who have read this, I hope this story will be an encouraging reminder that there are a lot of good people in our country. This everyday goodness, not the evil done by a few warped individuals, is what America is really all about. We have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be grateful for.
[Recently], Jeb Bush explained his proposed plan for tax reform on the Commentary page of The Wall Street Journal. Let's review a few of the proposal's pros and cons.
First, the economic. Pro: Bush proposes lower rates for both personal and corporate income. At a time when an increasing number of American citizens and American corporations are moving abroad so that they can keep more of their income, such a proposal is timely and vital.
Con: The proposal doesn't go as far as Rand Paul's more visionary proposal from early this summer. While Bush's top personal income tax rate would be 28 percent (approximately a 25 percent reduction) and the top corporate rate 20 percent (almost a 50 percent reduction), Sen. Paul boldly proposed a uniform top rate of 14.5 percent (why that oddball number instead of simply 15 percent, I have no idea) for both personal and corporate income. In addition to allowing Americans to keep more of their income, Paul's plan helps to restore the venerable principle of equality before the law by deep-sixing the discriminatory graduated tax scheme that discriminates against Americans by taxing some at higher rates than others.
Second, the political. Pro: By emphasizing growth while Democrats obsess about income distribution and redistribution, Bush is appealing to Americans' inherent optimism and belief in progress and achievement. While progressives sputter in the gloominess of their 16th-century zero-sum worldview, Bush's approach exudes togetherness and inclusiveness. He knows that America and Americans are capable of so much more than the government-induced stagnation of recent years. By calling for three personal income tax rates, with the top one being 28 percent, he clearly is maneuvering to lay claim to the Reagan mantle, since Reagan's last tax reform had only three tax rates with the same top marginal rate of 28 percent.
Con: By structuring his tax proposal so as to identify it with Reagan, Bush may find himself being compared to Reagan on far more issues than he would like. GOP conservatives will want to know if he is a "true Reaganite" or an opportunistic impostor. This could backfire on him. While Rand Paul broke new ground with his tax reform proposal, Bush is tilling old ground, which may raise concerns about whether he has any new ideas to deal with a tired old political status quo. Bush is adopting a centrist or perhaps even moderate position in the Republican field, which could replicate Mitt Romney's failed strategy of not winning over enough of the conservative base of the party.
Third, the timing. Pro: Bush deserves credit for publishing his well-thought-out proposal early in the campaign. It makes him seem proactive instead of reactive.
Con: With the current intense concern about the Iran deal and about the apparent law-breaking of the leading Democratic presidential candidate when she was Secretary of State, Bush's proposal may not have "legs" in terms of media coverage. Here I sympathize with him, because hardly a week goes by without the opposition party awash in some crisis or scandal, so it's unlikely he could find a "quiet" time in the news cycle when he could take front stage.
A few final thoughts in the form of questions: Do Americans today care all that much about tax reform? Have they grown tired of Republicans' almost ritualistic, robotic call for tax cuts while remaining relatively silent about the more important and more needed reform of cutting government spending? Are GOP voters more concerned about foreign affairs, immigration, and a political establishment that disrespects America, traditional American values, and American citizenship than about tax rates? Does Bush really "get it" - the big picture, that is?
Jeb Bush's tax proposal would be a marked improvement over our current tax code. It will be interesting to see if voters in the next election feel passionately enough about the tax code for taxes to be one of 2016's decisive issues.
Today's version of "a chicken in every pot" is Hillary Clinton's proposed plan to "make college affordable and available to every American." This is political catnip, pure and simple. And it is a more delusory form of catnip than Herbert Hoover's "chicken," for while everybody needs enough to eat, not everybody needs to go to college.
There is today an oversupply of college degrees. A Federal Reserve study found that half of recent graduates were working in jobs that didn't require a college degree or were not employed at all. For Mrs. Clinton to propose spending $350 billion to subsidize college attendance will exacerbate rather than reduce the glut of college-educated Americans. To propose such wastefulness when federal debt already exceeds $18 trillion is fiscally irresponsible and a slap at American taxpayers. It will also increase the number of graduates experiencing disillusionment when they realize the lack of market demand for their degrees.
The increasingly overt socialistic nature of Mrs. Clinton's campaign theme is glaringly evident in her "New College Compact." She laments, "For too long, families have been left to bear the burden of crushing costs" of a college education. Heaven forbid that Americans be expected to pay for what they consume! (A quick "thank you" here to those whose generosity funds academic scholarships to highly qualified and motivated students from poor backgrounds.) Who does Mrs. Clinton think should pay if not the consumer? Her plan explicitly specifies that the federal and state governments (i.e., the taxpayer) should foot the bill at public universities and colleges.
Along with state financing, Hillary Clinton advocates increased state control. She thinks that government should micro-manage post-secondary institutions by telling colleges where they must spend their money (less on administrative expenses), commanding colleges to accept junior college credits (regardless of the four-year colleges' own academic standards), and deciding when to waive accreditation standards.
Clinton's disfavor of the private sector is obvious: She expresses sympathy for students with "an expensive degree from a for-profit institution" only to find that a degree doesn't lead to a job. Why single out graduates of for-profit colleges and universities when the same disappointment befalls many graduates of not-for-profit institutions, too? And why should students who agree to work for government receive earlier cancellation of their debts than private-sector workers? That's a double-whammy on the taxpayer, whose taxes first would subsidize the student's education and then pay the student's salary after college. And why is it necessary for government to make sure that community colleges offer more "two-year degrees and certificate programs that are valued by employers?" Why can't private educational entrepreneurs survey the marketplace to discern what degrees and certificates are valued and then profit by providing them?
As for the horrendous problem of college debt blunting the lives of millions of younger Americans, Clinton doesn't acknowledge that the federal loan program is responsible. If she were not so ideologically averse to the private sector, she might see privatization of the college loan market as the solution. First, though, bankruptcy laws should be revised to include college debt. It is anomalous and unjust to allow mature adults with decades of business experience to erase their debts via bankruptcy if they make a miscalculation, but to deny such mercy and financial relief to young, inexperienced adults. If private lenders issued college loans, and they knew that bankruptcy was an option for young borrowers, then those lenders would calculate that risk. They wouldn't lend tens of thousands of dollars to students floundering for five or six years or students taking courses that have little value to the job marketplace, and so the glut of over-educated/under-employed young people would shrink.
There is one aspect of Clinton's higher education plan that makes some ethical, if not economic, sense. Ethically speaking, it seems unfair for the Fed to have engineered low borrowing costs for Uncle Sam while at the same time not sharing some of its windfall by refinancing student debt at lower rates. (Many students are still paying off loans at seven, eight, or nine percent). Economically speaking, though, Hillary Clinton has no business promising that the federal government "won't profit off student loans." While "profit" apparently is a dirty word to Clinton, any loan program should generate enough interest income to pay for the salaries, offices, etc., of those administering the loan. If the federal college loan program doesn't cover its own costs, then, once again, the long-suffering taxpayer gets stuck with those costs. The economically rational approach is to let the private sector figure out what an economically viable loan market for college education looks like. Economic losses to our society would decline by billions if privatization of student loans supplanted the socialistic status quo.
The New College Compact proposed by Hillary Clinton is economically wasteful central planning, all wrapped up in the beguiling garb of Santa Claus politics. Caveat emptor - Let the buyer (in this case, the American taxpayer and voter) beware. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.
Once again, a scholar with impressive credentials is broadcasting the gloomy notion that Americans face a job-poor future. The insufficient-jobs scenario appeared in George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen's book Average Is Over a couple of years ago. It resurfaced again recently in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Vivek Wadhwa, "a fellow . . . director of research . . . and distinguished scholar" at several prestigious universities, wrote that we need "a new version of capitalism" for "dealing with our jobless future."
The crux of Wadhwa's argument is his belief that technological progress will result in a society divided between a technologically savvy elite, who will prosper mightily, and a larger number of Americans whose jobs will be rendered obsolete and won't be able to find new jobs. There's an obvious fallacy here: If technological progress reduces employment opportunities, then why are hundreds of millions of people still working in the technologically and economically advanced countries of the world? What is it with these intellectuals and the recurring nightmare that progress results in a dearth of jobs?
An incident that the late economist Milton Friedman related comes to mind: While visiting a populous but undeveloped Asian country several decades ago, Friedman saw a gang of workers using shovels to excavate a hole where a building's foundation would be laid. Friedman noted that the job would be completed much more quickly if a modern excavating machine were used. His host replied that a deliberate decision had been made not to use such a machine because the government wanted to maximize employment. Friedman's rejoinder was to the effect that if the goal were to maximize employment in the country, they should ban the use of shovels and equip a far larger number of laborers with spoons. It doesn't require great vision to realize that a fully employed nation of spoon-wielding ditch diggers would remain a very poor place.
Can anyone doubt that technological progress has led to economic advancement? The economic principle is elementary: As worker productivity increases (that is, as more wealth is produced from fewer units of labor) prosperity rises, too. When improved agricultural productivity has bankrupted farmers and resulted in our food supply being produced by an ever-smaller percentage of Americans, what has happened to all those ex-farmers? They found employment in new fields, thereby increasing the number and variety of goods and services produced. In other words, more wealth was created, and that is how a society achieves higher standards of living for the masses.
What has just been described is Schumpeter's process of creative destruction. Old jobs that produce things of less value become obsolete and new jobs producing things of higher value take their place. This is the natural evolutionary course of free markets.
Any notion that there is a ceiling to the number of potential jobs ignores an elementary and undeniable economic truth - namely, that there is no limit to the potential number of jobs because there is no limit to mankind's wants. As technology makes it possible to produce what are considered the modern necessities of life (cars and cell phones in addition to the traditional necessities of food, clothing, and shelter) more workers will be available to produce and provide new goods and services that entrepreneurs are dreaming up every day of the year.
Is there anything that can inhibit or halt the natural tendency of entrepreneurs in market economies to generate new job opportunities? Yes, indeed. Government intervention - excessive and costly regulations, wealth-and capital-depleting taxation, misallocation of resources via government spending programs, depreciating currency, etc. - can stifle economic activity, discourage business formation, and cause job opportunities to dry up.
What is scary about Wadhwa's thesis and related plans (such as Hillary Clinton's proposal for government to lay a heavier, more controlling hand on American entrepreneurs and businesses) is that their ill-conceived policies will produce results opposite to what they claim to be seeking. There will be less employment instead of more.
When Wadhwa says we need a new "capitalism" that redistributes more wealth and provides everyone with a taxpayer-supported guaranteed income, he is doing two destructive things: First, he is perpetrating a pernicious lexicographical hoax, proposing a new form of statism that is a repudiation of free markets - that is, anything but "capitalism." A more honest statement would be "It is time to replace capitalism with greater government control of economic activity." The second destructive aspect of his suggestion is his apparent blindness to the fact that maximum economic freedom - true capitalism - is the world's best hope for expanding job opportunities. To jettison capitalism and replace it with a greater degree of statism will impede economic growth, squelch the growth of businesses, and consequently hinder job creation, to the economic detriment of those who are hoping for jobs.
There will be enough jobs for Americans only if the political planners surrender their mad ambition to direct the economy from Washington. *